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Articles by Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (331 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.

High Button Shoes

May 20, 2019

But, fear not!  The Encores! creative team—director John Rando, music director, Rob Berman and choreographer Sarah O’Gleby—found a terrific cast led by Michael Urie in the Phil Silvers’ role of Harrison Floy and Betsy Wolfe as (Mama) Sarah Longstreet, Nanette Fabray’s role (which featured the earworm ditty “Papa, Won’t You Dance With Me?”). [more]

Mark Morris Dance Group: Pepperland

May 16, 2019

"Pepperland," however, will not do anything for Morris’ reputation as a choreographer.  His dearth of choreographic invention—including constant repetition of a few steps, gestures and partnering tricks—was hidden behind colorful period costumes (Elizabeth Kurtzman), an odd set consisting of piles of reflective ribbons (Johan Henckens), inspired lighting (Nick Kolin) and fantastic arrangements of songs from the Beatles’ landmark 1967 "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band" album (Ethan Iverson).  There’s something to be said for simplicity, but if it were not for the other elements "Pepperland" would not hold up to some of his other ingenious masterpieces like "Grand Duo," "Dido and Aeneas" and his superb "L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed il Moderato." [more]

92Y Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “A Beautiful Dawning: ‘Oklahoma!’ at 75”

May 13, 2019

Ted Chapin, the writer and host of the 92Y Lyrics & Lyricists Series’ "A Beautiful Dawning: Oklahoma! at 75," did an impeccable job creating one of the best editions of this important series.  Here was a program both entertaining and informative.  The information was as enjoyable as the performances of the four singers who were directed and choreographed by Parker Esse and accompanied by the incredible Andy Einhorn and his brilliant musical ensemble. [more]

Tootsie

May 7, 2019

Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels still has most of his/her friends and professional acquaintances from the movie version with some new twists:  Jeff Slater, his playwright roommate (a wonderfully sardonic Andy Grotelueschen) having difficulty setting words to paper; former girlfriend, hyper-paranoid unemployed actress Sandy Lester (Sarah Stiles, doing mega-ditzy with all pistons firing); leading lady Julie Nichols (Lilli Cooper, lovely, good voice, but not as romantically vivid as she should be); clueless show director Ron Carlisle who’s not quite as sexist as in the film; and, finally, lascivious actor Max Van Horn (John Behlmann, who nearly steals the show with his brilliantly acrobatic machinations), now a dull-witted, malaprop-spouter who falls hard for the older Dorothy. [more]

The Battles of Richmond Hill

May 3, 2019

It is a well crafted story of a feisty seventy-something Sheila O’Connor (Nora Chester who does feisty beautifully) whose grandson, physician Brian O’Connor (an earnest Jordan Ahnquist), who worries about her believes she would be better off in a retirement community in New Jersey.  Brian tries to force the issue by telling Sheila that he has packed her a suitcase and is parked down the block waiting for her to accompany him to New Jersey. [more]

Socrates

May 3, 2019

For all you philosophy junkies out there—and you know who you are—Tim Blake Nelson’s world premiere "Socrates" at The Public Theater, the shining light of The Public’s Onassis Festival, is a treasure trove of ideas bantered, tossed, shredded and otherwise analyzed by a stage-full of ancient Greeks, led by the title character played with dignity and passion by the phenomenal Michael Stuhlbarg (the father in the film "Call Me By Your Name") and a cast of 16 mostly playing multiple roles. [more]

Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain

April 28, 2019

Likability is in short supply nowadays and the three playwright/performers who created this comedy, based on an actual pamphlet handed to Americans during World War II, have spun the dry, inadvertently funny, official publication into a delightfully involving charmer.  (Copies of the actual pamphlet are available in the lobby.) Dan March, James Millard and Matt Sheahan, the actors, along with John Walton, the show’s director and co-author, treat the audience members as the American soldiers on English soil for the first time, totally ignorant of the British customs, language, sports, food, etc.   There’s a lot of winking going on to be sure as Lieutenant Schultz (Millard) and Colonel Atwood (March), Americans, and Major Gibbons (Sheahan), an Englishman, share with us everything we wanted to know about Britain but were afraid to ask. [more]

17 Border Crossings

April 24, 2019

"17 Border Crossings" is one of the most technically adroit Off-Broadway shows to be seen thanks to the split second cooperation between Phillips’ spare scenery design, David Todaro’s brilliantly inventive lighting and Robert Kaplowitz’ sound design and occasional music.  How Phillips uses the table alone is astonishing, literally creating multiple angles of observation, including an astonishing simulation of peering at the Passenger from up above. [more]

Martin Vidnovic: Broadway & Beyond

April 17, 2019

With the medley of “My Romance” and “My Funny Valentine,” he warmed up and came to a gentle boil with the two songs from "Baby": “At Night She Comes Home to Me” and “With You,” both by Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire.  Even without knowing how the songs fit into this moving show, it was obvious from the change in Vidnovic’s features that he identified with both the meaning of the words and the meaning of these songs in his life. [more]

Twelfth Night (Duende Productions)

April 16, 2019

By stripping down the show and performing it in a white box theater space with minimal scenery and costumes, the eight actors, doubling up on parts, have fun interpreting Shakespeare’s luscious comedy of unrequited love and mistaken identity for each other, often bringing the viewers into the action (with mixed results).  This is probably the friendliest Twelfth Night I’ve ever seen since the musical Your Own Thing in the sixties. [more]

Charlie’s Waiting

April 10, 2019

Ludovica Villar-Hauser, the play’s keen eyed and eared director (and artistic director of Parity Productions the company responsible for this presentation), paces the fine actors for the ultimate tension, making the most of every innuendo. All three actors portray their characters with subtlety, their eyes revealing as much as their voices, carefully avoiding sliding into what might have been melodrama. [more]

Lori Belilove and The Isadora Duncan Dance Company: “March Madness”

April 3, 2019

Belilove, who has taught Sara Mearns of the New York City Ballet to perform some of these works, divided the concert into dances to Schubert, Chopin, Brahms and Scriabin, all original Duncan choreography staged by Belilove who has devoted her life to inspiring the public with Duncan’s repertoire The the evidence was in the beautiful dancing of her  troupe of six:  Becky Allen, Hayley Rose, Faith Kimberling, Emily D’Angelo, Nikki Poulos and Caroline Yamada. [more]

Tilt

April 3, 2019

The Experimental Theater Space at the Abrons, a not particularly large black box, was turned into a complex construction site by the "Tilt" creative staff, a truly unique interactive set.  Above the audience hung a crooked runway along which a ball was occasionally mysteriously rolled.  The ball eventually hit some metal gongs and went on to roll down a Rube Goldberg like contraption and onto the stage floor. [more]

Smart Blonde

March 31, 2019

Using the premise of a 1964 recording session that stimulates her many memories, good and bad, the play serves as a moving tribute to Holliday even though it doesn’t shy away from the darker side of her life.  In truth, it is the contrast between her brilliant professional career and her personal unhappiness that makes Holliday and this play so moving. [more]

I Married an Angel

March 28, 2019

A lot has been made of the parallels between the original 1938 production of "I Married an Angel" for which George Balanchine choreographed the dances for his soon-to-be wife, the glamorous Norwegian ballerina Vera Zorina and the New York City Center Encores! production for which its choreographer/director Joshua Bergasse staged the dances for his wife, the New York City Ballet star Sara Mearns. This is great publicity and drew the public, including myself, to this staging of one of Rodgers and Hart’s more charming musicals known mostly through a Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy film.  The original choreography is evidenced only via some silent film snippets taken of the original production. [more]

Princess Zhaojun

March 26, 2019

Produced in New York City by the China Arts and Entertainment Group Ltd., "Princess Zhaojun" was performed by the members of the China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater.  It was directed seamlessly by Kong Dexin, written with as much subtlety as possible by Yu Ping and brilliantly choreographed by four artists—Tian Ye, Tian Zhuang, Jia Guozhu and Wu Sha—whose collective ability to find emotion even in the movements of large groups of dancers was uncanny. [more]

Vilna

March 22, 2019

"Vilna," written by Ira Fuchs, is one of the more successful stage dramas to deal with the Holocaust, a notoriously difficult subject to portray on stage.  That this play succeeds as well as it does is to the credit of its director Joseph Discher who assiduously avoids clichés and stereotypes and its cast of fine actors, led by the great Mark Jacoby, a star of Broadway musicals, here displaying heart-breaking depth of emotion in two parts. [more]

Ballet Contemporáneo de Camagűey

March 19, 2019

The Camagűey troupe danced Ruiz’s work as if born to his vigorously eclectic style.  His choreography is an amalgam of ballet, modern dance, break-dancing, folk dancing and Latin ballroom.  He seems to be influenced by the work of Nacho Duato (himself a Jiri Kylian protégé) with his complex, body-interlocking lifts, bent torsos and a step-to-every-note. [more]

A Jewish Joke

March 14, 2019

"A Jewish Joke" brings immediacy to not only the personal and professional effects of the Hollywood blacklist, but to the current onslaught of internet finger-pointing and fear-mongering that can, and does, ruin lives even more quickly than in the slow-moving fifties.  Watching Bernie squirm and sweat over issues not of his own making, but issues that will take him down, is made only slightly more palatable by his self-deprecating humor. [more]

Boesman and Lena

March 12, 2019

The production of "Boesman and Lena" at The Pershing Square Signature Center directed with attention to every detail by Yaël Farber is stark and unforgiving in a way that would have been shocking in 1970.  Even though apartheid has been lifted, this play still resonates with its bleak display of human survival in the face of unimaginable terrors and its condemnation of racial inequity. [more]

Rameau, Maître à Danser (Les Arts Florissants)

March 7, 2019

Unlike the company’s 2016 luxuriously staged "Les Fêtes Vénitiennes," also at the Gilman, "Rameau" was purposely staged by Sophie Daneman as if in a village square, simply but effectively, the “effects” improvised as only peasants would: entrances to temples and heaven were curtains stretched between two poles; Jupiter appeared in a high stage box as an improvised Mount Olympus; a dancer as a god glided bare-chested undetected amongst the celebrating peasantry.  According to the program, this type of performance is called “théâtre de la foire” (theater of the fair). [more]

Complexions Contemporary Ballet: Program A

February 28, 2019

In “Star Dust,” a 2016 ballet tribute to David Bowie, Rhoden displayed his mordantly campy side in a series of scenes, each devoted to a famous Bowie number, beginning with Brandon Gray leading the company in “Lazarus,” setting the format for the rest of the ballet.  His face streaked with makeup, his hair aglow with color, Gray prowled proudly about the stage mouthing the words that Bowie sang.  He seemed very satisfied with himself. [more]

Rocha Dance Theater: “Half-Heard”

February 20, 2019

This wasn’t just a political statement about gender stereotypes, but a sensitive work of art that made its points through fine choreography, costuming, lighting (smartly designed by Jennifer Hill, creating a wide range of ambiances) and music. Half-Heard accomplished this without beating the audience members over the head. [more]

Betty and The Belrays

February 11, 2019

The creator of "Betty & The Belrays," now at the Theater for the New City, pretty much dares you to compare his well-meaning, but cartoony, new musical to Hairspray, a comparison in which the new musical fare poorly. Written—book and lyrics—and directed by William Electric Black, with music by Black, Valerie Ghent and Gary Schreiner, "Betty," like "Hairspray," tells the story of a white high school-aged girl, the eponymous Betty (Paulina Breeze), living in a racially divided city, here 1963 Detroit, where Motown and its distinctive style are being forged. [more]

Balletboyz: “Young Men”

February 7, 2019

The two directors/founders of BalletBoyz, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, directed and photographed the film which also included Pérez’s choreography.  Although the movie certainly illuminated the dark themes for a screen-crazy audience, it too often was a distraction when the dancers were performing in front of the screen, spread out across the Joyce stage.   Having to choose between the live and the filmed action became a problem even though both were of equal technical merit. [more]

Anne of Green Gables: Part I

February 4, 2019

Directed with touching simplicity by Henry and choreographed with a lyrical flow by Lorna Ventura, this Anne tells the well-known story utilizing a combination of voiceover readings, projections, dance, mime and fine acting.  Henry has turned Anne into a dance play with an original take on this oft-told tale of a spunky, intelligent and witty young lady guarded by a mute Greek chorus of four who reflect and illuminate her inner thoughts and feelings. [more]

Gatz

February 2, 2019

Director John Collins made the more than seven hour running time a breeze with his attention to detail, moving his cast of office workers/Gatsby characters with such naturalness that, as each denizen of this weird space was drawn into a speaking part, it seemed organic and smooth, as well as quite amusing, beginning with Scott Shepherd who, as the first person to pick up the book, took on the character of its narrator Nick Carraway who tells the story, which takes place in 1922, from a future vantage point.  Shepherd, who was in it from first to last, deserves the biggest kudos for keeping Gatz afloat with his calm demeanor and quietly stylized readings. [more]

92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “We’ll Have Manhattan: Rodgers & Hart in New York”

February 1, 2019

"We’ll Have Manhattan: Rodgers & Hart in New York," created and narrated by the soon-to-become Broadway’s Tootsie (in the new Broadway musical), Santino Fontana found most of its emotional heft in the sad story of the partnership of the efficient Richard Rodgers and the foot-dragging Lorenz Hart who found himself, a not handsome gay man, in the wrong time and place.  Hart had little personal happiness, it seems, but his songs were certainly full of gaiety and wit. [more]

L-E-V:  Love Chapter II

January 29, 2019

Casual strolling was suddenly punctuated by dancers bumping and grinding at each other, these full-bodied movements resonating in slightly different ways in each dancer, sometimes leading to entwining, slithering, sweaty duets.  Faces displayed over-the-top grimaces and uneasy forced smiles which led to desperate, phony-sounding laughing.  Arms were swung or used to produce angular silhouettes with studied nonchalance. Bodies twitched and twisted to staccato beats—music composed and arranged by Ori Lichtik whose score for “Love Chapter II” began with barely audible electronic beats which grew in volume and speed until the score suddenly became a Latino Cha-Cha to which the dancers seemed to glory. [more]

Between the Threads

January 23, 2019

Conceived and directed by Coral Cohen, along with musician/composer Zoë Aqua and the cast, Threads illuminates the experiences of a large swath of the Jewish population, beginning with a warmly related litany of genealogy delivered by the five fine performers:  Hannah Goldman, Lea Kalisch, Luisa Muhr, Daniella Seidl and Laura Lassy Townsend.  In turn, each tells of her background, the individual stories adding up to a portrait of the extent that Jews were forced to travel the world to find homes, particularly before, during and after World War II. [more]

Nederlands Dans Theater 2

January 21, 2019

All four works—particularly the first three—had a certain offhanded similarity, a lack of formal movement ideas and construction, but all four choreographers are clearly students of the school of Jiři Kylián, the most famous director of the NDT whose incredibly musical, minutely detailed choreography has influenced many both in Europe and here in the United States.  Kylián’s works have a touching humanity to them, while these four works tended more to movement for its own sake and arbitrary expression of emotions. [more]

Aileen Passloff, Stepping Forward: One Foot (in front of the other)

January 16, 2019

Of Passloff’s eight works, the newest, “Frolic,” (2018) to music by Erik Satlie (“Trois morceau en la forme de poire”) came closest in spirit to her classical ballet origins, utilizing whimsical characters to tell a gentle daydream.  To the calm music played live by pianists Michael Cherry and Douglas Schultz, a gentle Ballerina (Esmé Boyce), a boisterous, muscular Joker (Aviles), a sassy Horse Trainer (Pam Wess), two cavorting Horses (S. Asher Gelman and Mati Gelman) and a caring Mother (Charlotte Hendrickson)—all costumed in appropriate, colorful outfits—danced solos and duets, finally uniting for what—in minimalist terms—was a grand finale complete with cartwheels, simple ballet steps, horsey prancing, and the entire cast competing for attention from the rapt audience. [more]

Contemporary Dance Festival: Japan + East Asia 2019

January 10, 2019

The four choreographers whose three works were represented at the Japan Society’s Contemporary Dance Festival: Japan + East Asia flung themselves headlong into the modern world of dance with only occasional glances over their shoulders at their ancestors-in-art, preferring what often appeared to be an arbitrary approach to choreography uneasily alternating between coy, fey bits of choreographic fluff and sudden primal screams. Only the final work on this occasionally interesting, but flawed program displayed some understanding of this concept of the inexorable march of time and its effects. [more]
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