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Articles by Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (412 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.

Diana, The Musical

November 22, 2021

If you are a Princess Diana completist, "Diana: The Musical" will satisfy your needs along with the deeper Spencer and The Queen and all the innumerable documentaries about this ill-fated fairy princess.  Those interested in delving deeper into the Princess Diana mystique will be disappointed with this superficial, but somehow entertaining, musical. [more]

The Bronx Babe

November 21, 2021

When Sonny Marie Lee stepped onto the stage of the Actors Temple Theatre as the eponymous "The Bronx Babe" I thought she was putting the audience on, acting the stereotypical, Noo Yawk accented girl telling her memories of a stressful period in her life that tested her mettle. But, no, the woman who stood before us, the woman who both wrote and directed "The Bronx Babe," was obviously unaware of her theatrical shortcomings as she blithely told tales of her early teen years in the racially charged Bronx of the 1970’s. [more]

A Turtle on a Fence Post

November 16, 2021

Unfolding from a stand-up comedy routine—“A prisoner walks into a bar…!”—and set in a comedy venue designed with ingenuity and style by Walt Spangler, Turtle veers from hokey to horrible helped by the spiffy routines staged by choreographer Kenny Ingram in over-the-top, sometimes kitschy, routines.  Where else can you see dancing prison guards waving their batons as they tap dance in a circle or the flexible actor Josh Marin portraying an ATM and a basketball hoop? [more]

Caroline, or Change

November 9, 2021

"Caroline, or Change" is an important musical, more now than in 2004.  It should be seen.  The Roundabout production, though somewhat flawed, still communicates the complicated relationship between Blacks and Jews, clearly an issue in today’s New York City.  It is an excellently constructed show, its message surviving mostly intact. [more]

Swan Lake Rock Opera

November 5, 2021

Now there’s "Swan Lake Rock Opera" created by Mirit Shem-Ur (book and lyrics), Tsedi Sarfati (director and dramaturge) and Sharona Pick (music production and additional music).  The show uses orchestral themes from the original Tchaikovsky score and clever pop variations to create witty songs and underscoring. The libretto of "Rock Opera" follows the original Swan Lake plot points which tell of Young Prince Siegfried, ordered by his mother the Queen to choose a fiancée from a list of foreign princesses she has assembled.  He goes off to hunt to avoid making a decision and meets the Swan/Woman Odette and falls in love only to be deceived by her doppelganger Odile, an agent of the evil Von Rothbart who has cast a spell that turned women into swans.  This deception leads to tragedy. [more]

Lucinda Childs’ “Dance” at The Joyce Theater

October 21, 2021

Before the dancers appeared live, "Dance" commenced with a burst of Glass’ iconic, pulsating music—here pre-recorded, originally performed live—and a still from LeWitt’s original video projected onto a scrim which covered the entire stage opening.  LeWitt’s videos, intimate contributions to the work, also served to honor the performances of the original cast:  Childs, Graham Conley, Cynthia Hedstrom, Erin Matthiessen, Daniel McCusker, Susan Osberg, Judy Padow, Ande Peck and Megan Walker. [more]

New York City Center’s 2021 Fall for Dance Festival: Programs 1 and 2

October 19, 2021

The final work on Program 1 was its finest.  A.I.M. By Kyle Abraham presented its director’s “Our Indigo: If We Were a Love Song,” a deeply moving paean to the darker meanings of love.  It was choreographed to Nina Simone’s glorious renditions of six songs in which she wrapped her moving contralto around the lyrics of “Don’t Explain,” “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” and “Little Girl Blue.” The opening moments found the seven-member cast gathered in a dramatically lit upstage corner—moody lighting designed by Dan Scully—bending and reaching, dispersing only to return to their sculptural starting image. [more]

1-2-3 Manhunt

October 11, 2021

DiMurro writes with an acute sense of the rhythm of New York speech and its old-school jargon, helped by director William Roudebush’s complementary sense of timing, not to mention four expert actors who know how to embody these characters. Herrick Goldman’s atmospheric lighting and Andy Evan Cohen’s brilliant urban soundscape immeasurably added to the overall impact of "1-2-3 Manhunt." [more]

Denishawn: Dances by Ruth St. Denis & Ted Shawn

October 3, 2021

The dances on this program are perfect examples of the Denishawn aesthetic which combined what was then exoticism with impeccable theatricality.  The Denishawn troupe was very much of its time, the early twentieth century. The modern dance giants that came out of this artistic sensibility—Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman in particular—revolted against the exoticism to find a modern way of expressing themselves through movement, the way that artists who were their contemporaries put distance between them and the Impressionists.  These modern dance pioneers learned the ins and outs of dramatic presentation as they forged new dance forms. [more]

Between the Bars

October 1, 2021

Benjamin Viertel directs "Between the Bars" brilliantly finding the balance between theatricality and reality.  Each character emerges as distinct and multidimensional, even the guards who sit passively until they show their savage sides.  This is a cast of fine actors who communicate both the indignities of confinement and its ultimate tragic toll just feet away from the audience. [more]

The Wayward Daughter of Judah the Prince

September 27, 2021

It is to the credit of the entire cast—dressed in Anthony Paul-Cavaretta’s period tunics and flowing robes—that Lackey’s sometimes over-the-top dialogue lands credibly. Two other elements elevate the play:  Michael Sirotta’s lovely, mood-enhancing score and Jon DeGaetano’s imaginative scenery which includes large, stage-spanning curtains that cleverly serve as entranceways, sails and even ancient columns.  Michael Redman’s moody projections enhance Sirotta’s contributions. [more]

Ragamala Dance Company: Fires of Varanasi: Dance of the Eternal Pilgrim

September 25, 2021

As the opaquely complicated plot played out on the stage, the three lead dancers (Ranee, Aparna and Ashwini Ramaswamy) took turns displaying impeccable Bharatanatyam technique:  feet adorned with ghungroos (ankle bells), softly pounding out clear rhythms in varied positions, arms, exquisitely expressive, moving in striking patterns topped by constantly changing hand positions (mudras) which communicated character, mood and, to some extent, the story as it unfolded. [more]

My Mother’s Severed Head

September 16, 2021

Sadly, these promises aren’t kept in this mishmash of plots and characters that never quite meshes into a viable whole; it remains an unsteady comedy/fantasy never morphing into a smooth-running play.  Cissel awkwardly interrupts the play, alternating reality—such as it is—with colorful dance/mime sequences.   The characters—including the Mother/aka Severed Head—yell at each other, most often about that poor, ubiquitous head, garishly made up for the Mexican celebration of El Día de los Muertos. Every time the head speaks her mind the play comes to impudent life. [more]

Roles and Rules of Comedy

September 6, 2021

"Roles and Rules of Comedy," six short comedic bits of fluff written and directed by Harold Dean James is a character-driven view of contemporary New York City.  Presented at the elegant Players Club on Gramercy Park by We Three Productions, James deals mostly with down-to-earth people like Donna (Donna Kennedy) and Jaymie (Sharon Fogarty) who meet at a bus stop awaiting a ride that never seems to arrive in “At the Bus Stop Part 5.” [more]

BAAND Together Dance Festival at Lincoln Center

August 20, 2021

It’s unlikely that New York City will ever see these five troupes sharing a stage again.  This was a festive occasion despite being uneven in tone and not particularly representative of at least two of the large dance companies. Pretentious program notes were fortunately only available online so that they couldn’t mar the visceral enjoyment of several of these works in Program One. ... Each evening of the BAAND Together Dance Festival will feature a different program with contributions from each of these five wonderful dance companies. [more]

George M. Cohan Tonight!

August 17, 2021

It is definitely worth a gander for both its subject matter and its performer, the disarming and immensely talented Jon Peterson who also adapted the one-man play from Chip Deffaa’s original stage production which Deffaa previously staged.  Peterson directed this filmed adaptation and choreographed the scintillating tap routines matched with joyous precision to Cohan’s repertoire of gung-ho Americana.  (Think “Over There,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Forty-five Minutes from Broadway.”)  The choreographic high point was Peterson’s hip-swinging dance to “The Hinkey Dee.” [more]

The Two Noble Kinsmen

July 18, 2021

Hamilton Clancy, the artistic director of The Drilling Company, joins forces with his assistant director Karla Hendrick to stage The Two Noble Kinsmen in a modern-dress version that makes the plot of the play more accessible to the al fresco audience but tends to devalue the Elizabethan language.  They have even added a few very modern turns of phrases and pop tunes to elicit laughs during the few lighter moments of the plot. [more]

Charmed Life: From Soul Singing to Opera Star

July 15, 2021

She gets to sing everything from the Patsy Kline classic “Crazy,” “Respect” (made famous by Aretha Franklin), and “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess to generous, beautifully acted scenes from Bizet’s Carmen, her favorite role and the highlight of the show. The setting, a comfortable, slightly formal room (by Jaime Terrazzino) also includes a convenient grand piano played by John DiPinto (who alternates with Allison Brewster Franzetti), clearly delighting in collaborating with this warm-hearted diva. [more]

Fruma-Sarah (Waiting in the Wings)

July 9, 2021

In what might just be the best stage role of her career, Jackie Hoffman plays the multi-faceted Ariana in E. Dale Smith’s "Fruma-Sarah (Waiting in the Wings)" at Nancy Manocherian’s the cell theatre in Chelsea.  Sitting in place, attached to a hefty rope, she takes the audience and her co-star, Kelly Kinsella as Margo Peterson, “substitute fly captain,” on a journey of a life not well, but interestingly, lived. [more]

Aporia: “Icarus and Amina”

July 2, 2021

The Icarus of Icarus and Amina is a poster of Henri Matisse’s brilliantly colorful abstraction of that Greek mythological character who soared too close to the sun, and Amina (Sidney Caruth who skillfully balances sweetness and strength) is a Bangladeshi who has just this day graduated from a Catholic high school.  Because Amina hasn’t made any real friends even after four years of school, she gravitates to Sister Tre’s classroom ostensibly to say good-bye, a farewell that morphs into a bit of soul searching. Rachel McCain (a walking illustration of “still waters run deep”) plays Sister Tre, a Filipina nun and Amina’s favorite teacher and mentor who cautiously welcomes Amina into her classroom as she does some end-of-term tidying up. [more]

Audience (The Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre)

June 25, 2021

Havel’s Audience represents CAMT’s first foray into modern Czech literature having previously staged imaginative productions of folk material.  This visit to contemporary theater, unfortunately, wasn’t as successful as most of CAMT’s fairytale presentations.  The combination of whimsical marionettes and psychologically sophisticated drama didn’t gel. The autobiographical Audience pits Havel’s alter-ego, Ferdinand Vanĕk (played by Vít Hořejš who also translated and directed the play), against The Brewmaster (Theresa Linnihan) in what initially seemed to be casual, directionless banter during a workday at a beer brewing company. Preceding the actual play were a series of historic newsreels—prepared by Suzanna Halsey—showing how Czechoslovakia (when it was still called Czechoslovakia) descended from the high hopes of 1968—euphemistically called the Prague Spring—to the depths of despair following the Soviet Union’s crushing invasion to put down what they perceived as a pro-West revolution.  The newsreel images were far more frightening than Havel’s two hander which is clearly meant to reveal in everyday terms just how nefariously the communist, totalistic credo infiltrated daily life in Prague. [more]

Sloppy Bonnie: A Roadkill Musical for the Modern Chick

June 22, 2021

Written by Krista Knight and Brinegar, Sloppy Bonnie follows its title character (played with irresistible zest by Amanda Disney) as she lays waste to everything and everyone in her path, leaving car wrecks and bodies spread across the South. Two exuberant actors, Curtis Reed and James Rudolph II, portray all the other characters—male and female—beginning with zippy “cosmic” FM radio hosts, Chauncey and Dr. Rob, who deliver homey philosophy and songs. They introduce Bonnie, clad in a slightly slutty outfit—revealing blouse, ridiculously short skirt and white patent leather boots (by Alex Sargent Capps, Megan Haase and Gabrielle Saliba)—straight out of Li’l Abner which is an apt reference as the entire physical production is presented as a brightly colored cartoon with elaborate framings, abstract designs and hilarious manipulations of the actual performers’ appearances.  [more]

New Chamber Ballet: “Sea” & “Sun”

May 31, 2021

“Sea,” according to Magloire’s program notes is “loosely inspired by the movement of waves.”  Five dancers—Anabel Alpert, Megan Foley, Amber Neff, Rachele Perla and Alison Tatsuoka-dressed in Sarah Thea’s beautifully flowing blue costumes, certainly moved in ways that were wavelike, but they also seemed to be performing a constantly shifting ritual that eased from quietly intense to agitated and back—from languor to vigor. [more]

Sutton Foster: “Bring Me to Light” 

April 30, 2021

Sutton Foster, one of the shining lights of New York City’s currently dimmed theater scene, glowed in Sutton Foster/Bring Me to Light.  Her voice and interpretations were the richest they have ever been.  Add to this her choice of repertoire and her talented guests and Bring Me to Light is a beacon of light in a dark year. As we see New York City Center’s backstage staff prepare for the performance, Foster performed the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “Cockeyed Optimist” segueing to Stephen Sondheim’s “Everybody Says Don’t” and Kander and Ebb’s “Yes,” all upbeat, optimistic songs that should resonate with today’s pandemic-strained audiences. [more]

Ephrat Asherie Dance: “Odeon”

April 16, 2021

Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie, the artistic director of the effervescent Ephrat Asherie Dance (EAD) has absorbed the disciplines of a number of dance forms:  hip-hop, breaking, Latin-American and Vogue.  She skillfully and wittily scanned all of these into Odeon, a 105-minute long work that showed off her six member troupe. They—including Asherie—danced with a verve, if not native authenticity, that matched the Brazilian-tinged score by Ernesto Nazareth, here interpreted by an on stage four-member band under the musical direction of Ehud Asherie. [more]

The Jackson C. Frank Listening Party w/Special Guest

March 29, 2021

Aguirre manages to have written a play that doesn’t feel like a play thanks to his interpretation of the main character.  He doesn’t overdo the emotions, letting the songs carry that weight for him. Sarah Norris’ direction—aided by Hallie Griffin’s skillful film and sound editing—is unobtrusive except for allowing the two women characters to veer towards stereotype, particularly when Aguirre’s Allen is so natural. [more]

Jericho

March 6, 2021

"Jericho" has a great deal going for it.  It is directed by Marsha Mason and features Jill Eikenberry.  These two formidable theater artists’ participation promises quality which is evident from the first scene on to the quietly scathing denouement.  Jericho also has proven itself in a run in 2013 at the 59E59 Theaters.  Its intimate, six character scale lends itself to the close-ups of streaming which Mason deftly juggles with a combination of in-your-face emotion and wit. [more]

Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company: “Solo Suites”

October 21, 2020

Now directed by the energetic and warm Enrique Cruz DeJesus, Alpha Omega provided welcome relief from months of quarantine and angst with “Solo Suites,” a breezy—in every sense of the word—outdoor, healthily spaced program created by three choreographers who have had the privilege of working in this inviting space, a beautifully appointed home base in the East Village. Now directed by the energetic and warm Enrique Cruz DeJesus, Alpha Omega provided welcome relief from months of quarantine and angst with “Solo Suites,” a breezy—in every sense of the word—outdoor, healthily spaced program created by three choreographers who have had the privilege of working in this inviting space, a beautifully appointed home base in the East Village. These three choreographers presented four solos as the carefully spaced, masked and wine imbibing audience watched as breezes swept up the costumes. After calmly (and professionally) enduring a minor audio snafu, Ari Mayzick opened the program with his “Orphée,” a tense study of grief, an intense take on the Orpheus and Eurydice legend. [more]

Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble: “Rooms2020”

July 20, 2020

“Rooms2020” was to have been presented in a live season which was aborted by the current Covid crisis. Instead, the troupe has presented the work artfully streamed in a version that is more realistic, each section filmed by the dancers themselves and edited with artistic precision and a feeling for its dramatic arc by associate artistic director Lauren Naslund to make a cogent whole. (The other directors are the founder Jim May, Samantha Geracht and Eleanor Bunker.) [more]

West Side Story

March 16, 2020

Van Hove's energetic cast is too often lost among the video images which is sad because they are a wonderfully scrappy group of actor/dancer/singers who give their all.  (I’m told that this is less of an issue in the higher reaches of the theatre due to the difference in perspective.)  To be sure, there are wonderful moments where the groups move about in cityscapes that constantly change around them, but these are countered by long scenes during which the actors appear to be lilliputian figures whose singing and emoting get lost in the confusion of giant faces. [more]

Nederlands Dans Theater 2020

March 12, 2020

If one were to come to conclusions about the Netherlands after seeing the three ballets presented by the Nederlands Dans Theater at the New York City Center, the Netherlands would clearly come off as a place of doom and gloom where relationships are expressed by tossing each other around or totally avoiding contact. This world-class dance troupe is always welcome, but one has to wonder who programmed this mini-season.  Of course, the company’s artistic director Paul Lightfoot who co-choreographed one of these works has to have been the driving force in putting this show together. [more]

Suicide Forest

March 6, 2020

This illustrates the biggest problem with "Suicide Forest":  it takes on too many issues, jumping from social to sexual to mythological to intimate family subjects.  Making the play even more difficult to understand is that it is performed in both Japanese and English.  In addition there is some confusing cross-ressing. "Suicide Forest" is alternately funny, disgusting and moving, making it too often a tiring show to sit through despite its wealth of social commentary. The director Aya Ogawa kept the show rolling along but couldn’t make all the parts gel. [more]

92Y Lyrics & Lyricists Series: Jerry Herman: You I Like

February 27, 2020

Music director Andy Einhorn who conceived the show was a genial, informed host.  Having worked as the music supervisor and music director for the most recent revival of "Hello, Dolly!,"  he was at times overcome with emotion as the show, directed by Cady Huffman, revealed all of Herman’s richness and, yes, sophistication.  Listening to and quoting Herman really got to Einhorn whose beautiful arrangements buoyed all the songs. [more]
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