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Articles by Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (286 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.

The Little Prince

November 14, 2018

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s wondrous fairytale, "The Little Prince" ("Le petit prince"), has been filmed as a musical, a cartoon, and a musical cartoon and even occasionally staged live, but rarely as energetically and lovably as the EPIC Players Inclusion Company’s production at the Flea Theatre.  The EPIC Players is “a neuro-inclusive theatre company that uses the performing art to empower artists with developmental disabilities.” [more]

Lured

November 13, 2018

Frank J. Avella’s "Lured" at the Theater for the New City practices a bit of theatrical legerdemain.  Ostensibly about the perils of being gay in today’s Russia, Avella takes an unexpected turn into revenge melodrama that almost defeats his main political/social theme.  Considering that Lured is based on real events, at the very least he dulls the important political and social points he is making by having the victims and perpetrators behave equally abhorrently. [more]

The Tenant

November 12, 2018

Whiteside isn’t exactly misused, but rather underused and under coached.  No one should have laughed when he began his transformation into his female alterego.  Whiteside, used to the broader acting style of ballets on huge stages, can’t seem to find the telling details of his drastic, paranoid morphing into Simone of the death wish, not helped by the steps nor the direction he has (or has not) been given.  Whiteside appeared practically emotionless as he stared into a mirror—actually the audience—as he adjusted his very bad wig, applied more lipstick, stripped naked, tucked and put on a Whiteside-sized version of the dress that Simone wore when she flew off the top of Pita’s well-designed, complex set. [more]

Prinze: The One-Man Show

November 5, 2018

Sonera opens the show with Prinze doing one of his sets at the Improv Club in New York City, 1976, beginning with one of his famous lines, “Looking good!” and continuing with his sardonic comments about Puerto Ricans (“A lot of people think Puerto Ricans are responsible for cockroaches.”) and civil rights.  He speaks of touring to Florida and the frustration of having to perform in front of old people and then goes on to disparage blacks and gays, all material that would be PI today, but delivered as a “nice guy” who’s just observing the world. [more]

The Ferryman

October 31, 2018

Imported from London, with a number of the original cast members, "The Ferryman" takes place in rural County Armagh, in Northern Ireland in 1981, during a rise of violence of the IRA, right in the middle of The Troubles, the decades-long fight for Irish independence from Great Britain.  Butterworth (represented previously in New York by "The River" and "Jerusalem") brilliantly relates the tension, violence and dread that rocked Ireland by focusing on a single, extended family, incisively using this domestic microcosm to illuminate the complexities of a society at war with itself. [more]

Love, Linda

October 29, 2018

Elegantly inhabiting the small Triad stage, Holland’s Linda is clearly a class act, with a smooth, rich, dark voice.  Hearing her tale of their days in the twenties cruising the high points of Europe, the culturally historical figures they carouse with—including Diaghilev, Chanel and Stravinsky—and Cole’s early successes are fascinating:  cue “Ours,” “I Love Paris,” “Miss Otis Regrets” (written for the legendary Bricktop in whose boîte the Porters hangs out with their fun-loving, rich friends) and the adorable “Scampi,” the triumphant tale of a mischievous shrimp. [more]

Song of the Mermaid

October 24, 2018

The K-Arts Dance Company from Korea presented two performances of "Song of the Mermaid," an entertaining full-length ballet choreographed by its artistic director, Sunhee Kim.  Song of the Mermaid was an extravagant ode to old-style ballet, a tribute to Petipa, if you will, based on the well-known tragic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of love gone wrong. [more]

Salome

October 15, 2018

This M-34 production, under Rutherford’s direction, doesn’t rise to stratospheric heights.  Quite the opposite:  Rutherford’s direction and writing turns Salome into a fascinating domestic comedy/drama, an interesting interpretation, even a witty interpretation, but one that avoids piercing the audience’s minds.  He keeps the actors watchable with an in-your-face directing style.  Earnest and energetic as it is, he never squeezes fresh revelations from the text. [more]

The Evolution of Mann

October 10, 2018

Henry’s roommate and confidante, Gwen (a solid, appealing Leslie Hiatt) has her own heartache to deal with:  Her wife, Diana, has left her, accusing Gwen of infidelity.  Gwen and Henry support each other with wisecracks, gentle prodding and pleasant songs provided by Douglas J. Cohen (music and lyrics) and Dan Elish (book and lyrics, based on Elish’s novel, "Nine Wives"). [more]

Experimenting with Katz

October 3, 2018

Gill expertly writes each character as three dimensional, giving each complex backgrounds, making it clear that each benefits from knowing the others.  A mundane Scrabble game is as revealing as Truth or Dare.  Phone calls uncover the wonderful interdependencies of this group. [more]

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company: Analogy Trilogy

September 29, 2018

Jones has become known for applying his wide-ranging choreography and sharp mind to storylines that take on chunks of history—including some shockingly modern history.  He displays his sharp observational abilities in Analogy Trilogy, each part luxuriating in the slow, detailed unraveling of the stories of three interesting people:  Dora Amelan, a Belgian Holocaust survivor; Lance, a seventies’ drug, sex and phony fame survivor; and the surreal Ambrose, the Emigrant who accompanies a rich, detached Jew on his odd journeys through America and Europe in the early twentieth century. [more]

Hurricane Party

September 21, 2018

The intellectual level of "Hurricane"’s characters may not be as high as George, Martha, Nick and Honey’s.  Nevertheless they reveal their inner psychological turmoil, secret fears, secret yearnings and sense of isolation with equal intensity.  Thigpen’s astutely observed dialogue and Maria Dizzia’s vivid whirlwind direction lift "Hurricane" from foul-mouthed melodrama to passionate character study. [more]

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]
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