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Articles by Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (383 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.

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]

The Commons

February 18, 2020

Could there be five more self-involved, selfish, self-deceptive characters than those who populate Lily Akerman’s "The Commons" at the 59E59 Theaters?  No, these five roommates aren’t evil, just depressingly of the here and now, young people who have lost the ability to communicate honestly with each other.  There’s a problem with a 90-minute play about people who do not connect: it is an unrewarding slog for an audience to sit through. [more]

Ashley Blaker: Goy Friendly

February 17, 2020

"Goy Friendly" is clearly meant as a light entertainment with lecture-demonstration components and succeeds as such.  It’s delightful spending time with this superb raconteur, even if he cleverly sidesteps the deeper implications of his subject matter. [more]

CunningGraham Technique Comparison

February 9, 2020

Hosted by the Graham Company’s elegant director Janet Eilber, the program began with some historical comments after which two groups of dancers, one representing the Graham technique from Graham 2 and the other the Cunningham technique from the Merce Cunningham Trust entered the large studio/theater.  They performed parallel exercise routines, the Graham side guided by Virginie Mécène, Graham 2’s director and former Graham star and the Cunningham contingent guided by two former Cunningham members Jennifer Goggans and the aforementioned filmmaker Madoff. [more]

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake

February 5, 2020

“The legend returns” claimed the fliers and posters for "Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake"’s short season at the New York City Center.  That proclamation wasn’t far from the truth.  "Swan Lake" is definitely Bourne’s most famous and prolifically performed work from a repertory that includes "Edward Scissorhands," "Sleeping Beauty" and "The Red Shoes," all having made touchdowns in New York City with varying success.  Only his "Swan Lake" has caught the imagination of audiences throughout the world despite its daring take on a beloved classic. [more]

A Soldier’s Play

February 5, 2020

David Alan Grier, Blair Underwood and Billy Eugene Jones in a scene from Charles Fuller’s “A [more]

92Y Lyrics & Lyricists Series: E.Y. “Yip” Harburg: Follow the Fellow Who Follows a Dream

January 29, 2020

The 92nd St. Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists, one of New York’s leading propagators of the Great American Songbook, featured the witty and sardonic songs of E.Y. “Yip” Harburg in its most recent edition: "E.Y. 'Yip' Harburg:  Follow the Fellow Who Follows a Dream." Harburg, famous for writing the lyrics for "The Wizard of Oz" and "Finian’s Rainbow," wrote over 600 songs with many collaborators. The show gracefully explored his oeuvre and his life using the extraordinary talents of five fine singers and a superb band led by Paul Masse who supplied the often surprising orchestrations. They were helped by vivid projections by Dan Scully that showed New York City street scenes, theater marquees, historic programs and posters as well as photos of a genial looking Harburg who tried all his life to defy all the prejudices and inequities of his time and replace them with his complex and colorful lyrics that featured witty rhymes and references. [more]

Romeo & Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona & Brooklyn

January 27, 2020

"Romeo & Bernadette," a fresh take on Shakespeare’s oft-adapted tale of love, is an unabashed valentine to inter-era romance.  Shakespeare’s Romeo (cutie-pie Nikita Burshteyn, perfectly cast) is magically time-travelled to 1960’s Brooklyn to seek Bernadette (beautiful Anna Kostakis who plays both the foul-mouthed Bernadette and the demure Juliet), a striking doppelganger of his beloved sixteenth century Juliet.  There he meets members of two rival Italian mobs who substitute, 1960-style, for the Capulets and Montagues. [more]

Sing Street

December 27, 2019

By stripping the story of local color—even the projections show little but an anonymous seascape—the creative team does ill by "Sing Street. " Take away the Irish accents, the 1980’s songs and a quick reference to The Famine, and this story of alienated teens could have taken place in Boise, Idaho, or Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Let’s face it, the let’s-put-together-a-band-to-solve-our-problems was even a common theme in MGM films of the forties! (The original "Sing Street" movie, of course, was filmed in Dublin and was filled to the brim with local color and the grimness of economic distress.) [more]

ZviDance: MAIM (“Water” in Hebrew)

December 19, 2019

Israeli-born choreographer Zvi Gotheiner created "Maim ('Water' in Hebrew)," a somber meditation on water, drought, misery, community and survival for seven members of ZviDance, all brilliant dancers with clearly defined personalities. Somehow, in under an hour, Gotheiner managed to dredge up memories and images of his early life on a kibbutz and how valuable water was in the life of his community.  That, added to the current climate crisis’ causing drastic drought concerns, stimulated him to produce "MAIM ('Water' in Hebrew)." [more]

Peter & the Wolf

December 13, 2019

Ensemble Signal, Marjorie Folkman, Daniel Pettrow and Kristen Foote in a scene from “Peter & [more]

The Gospel of John

December 11, 2019

After marveling at Ken Jennings’ power of memorization, one has to admire his ability to deliver the entire text of "The Gospel of John" with unwavering clarity and devotion to its meaning both as literature and as a Christian lodestone. An agile actor (and singer), Jennings (the original Tobias in "Sweeney Todd"), deftly tells the story of Jesus as seen through the eyes of John the Baptist.  The actor roams about a simple raised platform in front of a rough-hewn back curtain made of wrinkled tan cloth.  What looks like a handmade bench—a subtle reference to Jesus’ vocation?—completes the set. [more]

The Sorceress (Di Kishefmakherin)

December 9, 2019

Goldfaden’s escapist musical fantasy combines bits and pieces from many sources: the Cinderella fairy tale; Gilbert-and-Sullivan-esque rapid-fire, tongue twister songs; old-fashioned (even in 1878!) melodrama; Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio; and—believe it or not—the Seventies’  TV sitcom, “Laverne and Shirley”! (The L & S reference, to be absolutely honest, might be an interjection improvised by the actor—yes actor—playing the title role.) [more]

The Chase Brock Experience: “The Four Seasons”

November 27, 2019

His more abstract ballets for The Chase Brock Experience, such as its current presentation at Theatre Row, "The Four Seasons" to the Vivaldi score (a revival from 2006), did not fare quite as well.  Despite the fact that "The Four Seasons" had some spoken text (by David Zellnick) and an environmental subtext, the majority of the work was a pretty, but slightly anemic balletic expression of the famous (over-used?) score. [more]

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical

November 24, 2019

Do we really need another Jukebox Musical on Broadway—another hum-along, sing-along, déjà vu, vaguely autobiographical songfest? When the subject is as charged up as Tina Turner, the answer is yes—a conditional yes, but….yes, especially when the title character is embodied by the sensational Adrienne Warren who gained accolades for her rendition of Tina in the original London production and is one of the main reasons Tina gained the momentum to make the jump to Broadway. [more]

Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company: Bittersweet, Tormenta, Tabernacle and Las Desenarmoradas

November 19, 2019

Artistic director Enrique Cruz DeJesus presented a performance of Alpha Omega in preparation for the troupe’s fiftieth anniversary season next year.  This concert featured two works by the brilliant modern dance choreography Eleo Pomare whose works have, for some reason, been neglected for years.  Mr. Cruz DeJesus also presented two of his works, “Bittersweet” and “Tormenta.” [more]

Tiffany Mills Company: “Not then, not yet”

November 16, 2019

Tiffany Mills’ "Not then, not yet," a world premiere dance/theater work at The Flea proposed a dark, slightly chaotic view of relationships and alienation choreographed on her own troupe, the Tiffany Mills Company. Only 45 minutes long, Not then, not yet was dense with activity and glum interactions among the six dancers (including Mills) and singer Muriel Louveau who composed the erratically performed score, co-written with Angélica Negrón. [more]

BrandoCapote

November 13, 2019

In 1957 Truman Capote disingenuously misled the legendary actor Marlon Brando into opening up to him under the guise of helping to publicize the soppy melodrama, Sayonara which Brando was then making in Kyoto. This now infamous interview caused quite a stir for its snarky tone and caustic observations about Asian women.  In their "BrandoCapote," Sara & Reid Farrington have sliced and diced this article, added music, fanciful Japanese costumes and rather severely stylized choreography and come up with a fascinating theater piece. [more]

Little Shop of Horrors

November 5, 2019

In a counterintuitive casting coup, handsome Jonathan Groff stars as the nebbish Seymour Krelborn who works at Mushnik’s (a funny, kvetchy Tom Alan Robbins) failing flower shop on Skid Row.  Seymour discovers an odd potted plant in Chinatown after an eclipse, a plant that leads to great success for both Mushnik and Seymour. Although it is difficult to forget Groff’s physical attributes (well-hidden under Tom Broecker’s costumes), he delivers a brilliantly realized sad sack Seymour. Poor Seymour is in love with the much put upon Audrey played with ditzy perfection by Tammy Blanchard.  Two-time Tony Award winner Christian Borle chews the scenery as Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend, Orin Scrivello plus several other characters such as a William Morris agent and an NBC TV executive. [more]

The Sound Inside

October 30, 2019

On Broadway every once in a while writing, acting, directing and the technical production come together to profound, memorable effect.  Adam Rapp’s "The Sound Inside" at Studio 54 is a superb example of this phenomenon.  Originally staged at the Williamstown Theater Festival, the move to Broadway, and a much larger theater, works incredibly well. [more]

Mette Ingvartsen: “to come (extended)”

October 27, 2019

Last seen in New York in 2017, Danish choreographer Mette Ingvartsen has brought a newish work, "to come (extended)" to NYU Skirball Center.  To come (extended) is actually a reworking and expansion of an earlier work. Unfortunately, Ms. Ingvartsen appears to be in a rut, a deep, monotonous sexual rut. She considers herself the one-woman expert analyzer of all things sexual via her repetitive choreography.  Indeed, her work includes nudity and explicit sexuality (all forms of intercourse between every combination of genders, oral sex, group sex, etc.) all extremely unexciting, in fact, quite boring. [more]

Games

October 21, 2019

"Games" shines a light on the long forgotten stories of two Jewish athletes in post-World War I Germany, a Germany that slid into National Socialism by the 1930’s, effecting the lives of Helene Mayer, a world-class fencer, and Gretel Bergmann, a record-setting high jumper.  The play, directed with attention to pacing and unadorned expressiveness by Darren Lee Cole (assisted by Hayley Procacci) takes the protagonists through the world-changing 1936 Berlin (aka the “Nazi”) Olympics. [more]

Fall for Dance 2019: Program 5

October 16, 2019

Monica Bill Barnes totally changed the mood with her thoroughly delightful “The Running Show” which used physical contests as a metaphor for dance.  Barnes stood in the midst of sixteen students from Hunter College as her creative partner, Robbie Saenz de Viteri acted as a sports announcer, egging the large group on as they performed complicated patterns of finger snapping. Saenz de Viteri was the backbone of “The Running Show,” his narration, in turn witty, humorous and deeply thoughtful, drove the action which included more competitions; Barnes trying to beat her turning record; and an appearance of a young ballet dancer, Charlotte Anub.  She was clearly too young to dance on point, but she had a natural stage presence as she turned and performed basic pointe work, charming the audience.  “The Running Show” left a positive buzz in the audience, casting a quiet spell. [more]

Fall for Dance 2019: Program 4

October 14, 2019

The final work, “Unveiling” by Sonya Tayeh, director of Tayeh Dance, known now as the choreographer of the Broadway hit 'Moulin Rouge!," used a trio which appeared to be about a female (the American Ballet Theatre star, Stella Abrera) an interloper interfering with a gay relationship between Robbie Fairchild (formerly of the New York City Ballet and the star of An American in Paris on Broadway and the West End in London) and Gabe Stone Shayer. What made “Unveiling” the hit that it proved to be was the music performed live by the super-humanly talented Moses Sumney who stood on a small platform singing, wailing, thumping, rattling and otherwise issuing a spectrum of gorgeous sounds that supported Tayeh’s complicated portrait. [more]

The Glass Menagerie

October 10, 2019

It is Ginger Grace as Amanda that is the crowning glory of this production.  Though slender and frail looking, she is still a powerful, if bothersome figure, memories of a golden southern belle past clashing with her poverty-stricken present.  Grace lives Amanda on the tiny Wild Project stage, making it seem large and teeming with life, although nothing really happens in "The Glass Menagerie," nothing that is except the dissolution of a family. [more]

BalletX: The Little Prince

October 3, 2019

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s "The Little Prince" (1943) has been studied, analyzed, and staged as any number of plays, ballets, musicals and an unsuccessful film.  So, it was with great interest that I went to BalletX’s The Little Prince choreographed by fast-rising choreographer Anabelle Lopez Ochoa to a brilliant score composed and miraculously played by Peter Salem. BalletX, directed by the forward looking Christine Cox, is a modern ballet troupe stationed 90 minutes south of New York in Philadelphia.  The troupe combines classical ballet with modern dance and, in the case of the Little Prince, mime, singing, speaking and twisty modern dance. [more]

The Green Room

October 3, 2019

These four characters are, unfortunately, not interesting enough to fill a 90-minute musical, especially one that covers territory better served by other shows like "A Chorus Line," "Fame" and "Merrily We Roll Along," all superior to the earnest, but predictable "Green Room." Even the crisis that drives the play—will Anna wear a revealing costume in Cliff’s play?—is laughable nowadays when nudity is common.  Cliff’s play is backed by his—and Anna’s—Dad with the proviso that all four pass their courses. They all depend upon each other to study, but leave everything to the last minute.  Even when it’s likely that they will pass, Anna’s refusal to wear a skimpy costume, one it turns out that even a high school participant in the Jimmy Awards would find modest, is a red herring that is soon resolved. [more]

Rubberband: “Ever So Slightly”

September 22, 2019

Quite simply, Rubberband, the Montreal-based dance troupe’s season at The Joyce Theater was a spectacular success.  Directed by Victor Quijada, Rubberband performed his "Ever So Slightly," a 75-minute investigation of contemporary angst staged to original music by Jasper Gahunia and William Lamoureux, played live. "Ever So Slightly" came at the audience in waves, starting with calm, gentle waves and ending in a tsunami of roughness and near anarchy. [more]

I Never Sang for My Father

September 14, 2019

The trouble is Lee’s almost catatonic approach to Gene.  He speaks in a toneless monotone and adapts a monolithic physical approach, his hands constantly held stiffly at his sides.  When he does erupt in anger it registers as bizarre overacting rather than the culmination of a life of living under his father’s thumb.  This leaves an emotional vacuum in the center of the play.  Even when he delivers the poignant punch line—“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship”—what should have been an emotional wallop becomes a whimper. [more]
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