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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.

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]

Waiting for Godot (New Yiddish Rep)

January 7, 2019

Translator Shane Baker has found excellent Yiddish equivalents for Beckett’s language.  He understands that Yiddish is a minor key tongue full of sadness, quicksilver tone changes, perfect for expressing the constant complaints that fill the libretto of Godot.  Of course, it is Beckett’s language that passes the time with its casually tossed off deep observations of the human condition in the guise of flippant or quasi-philosophical comments. [more]

The Chase Brock Experience: The Girl with the Alkaline Eyes

December 31, 2018

Brock’s work once prized effect over substance, but years of choreographing situation and character-based musicals ("Be More Chill," "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark") have sharpened his artistic vision; or, perhaps, he has matured as he’s gained experience—and years. [more]

ZviDance: Bear’s Ears & Detour

December 28, 2018

A five-day journey to Bear’s Ears National Monument in Utah in the company of other dancers, choreographers and Native Americans turned Gotheiner’s mind to more serious pursuits resulting in “Bear’s Ears” and “Detour,” two of his best works. Both display some influence of Native American dance forms, but only to focus Gotheiner’s creative energies on the emotional journeys of his dancers. Bear’s Ears is a national monument under attack by this government’s forces which want to open this area to mining and natural gas exploration, completely ignoring the deep spiritual associations with the Native Americans. [more]

Nut/Cracked

December 22, 2018

The troupe attracted a wide-ranging audience to The Sam space at The Flea, even a few youngsters there to see their first live dance performance, and, with the exception of one section, “Thumbs,” performed by Nic Petry and Kazin, which might been perceived as naughtily sexual, they were in for many treats:  jaunty barefoot tapping (“Top Hats”); a male Sugar Plum Fairy, Dylan Baker, who was so proud of his toe shoe technique that he shined a flashlight on his every foot jiggle (“Flashlight”); and “A Chorus Line” of young dancers from the Dalton School getting their first taste of professional dancing under the lights in front of an audience. [more]

The Baby Monitor

December 19, 2018

That it involves the relatively new phenomenon of gay parenthood gives it an added impact.  That it is written with a thorough understanding of the complexities of gay parenthood vs. conservatives-in-liberal-clothing keeps it constantly edgy.  And, that it has a relatively positive ending makes it a valuable addition to this literature in a season when Michael McKeever’s popular "Daniel’s Husband" excited interest in a storyline also involving gay marriage, one with a decidedly dire conclusion. [more]

The Cher Show

December 17, 2018

Elice is no stranger to biographical musicals.  His "Jersey Boys" is still running off-Broadway.  Here he was inspired to divide the eponymous character into three personalities:  the Star (the sensational, charismatic Stephanie J. Block), the current, living legend; the Lady (Teal Wicks, fascinating in this bridge role), the mid-career Cher; and the Babe (Micaela Diamond in a gutsy, eager performance) the young Cher just discovering herself guided by her Svengali, Sonny Bono (Jarrod Spector, not a physical match to Bono, but a fine singer and actor). [more]

Shadows: A Dance Musical

December 4, 2018

The flier for "Shadows," subtitled "A Dance Musical," calls it “a Gothic ghost love story,” adding, “It’s Twyla Tharp meets Stephen King.”  If only. "Shadows," written by Randall David Cook (book) and Edison Woods, Maxim Moston and Karen Biskho (music and lyrics) and choreographed and directed by Joey McKneely, does tell a love story and does have a good deal of dancing, but the eerie romance doesn’t rise to the complex Gothic levels of Stephen King and the choreography is far less creative than Twyla Tharp’s. [more]

Twyla Tharp: Minamalism and Me

December 3, 2018

Her quietly wry, gently self-deprecating autobiographical lecture demonstration, “Minimalism and Me,” was the first half of a program devoted to her early works. These works more often than not caused more chin scratching than accolades.  From the virtually motionless “Tank Dive” to the giddy, if slight, “Eight Jelly Rolls,” her intellectual processes—including stacks of graph paper jottings that guided her and her dancers on stage (or on gymnasium floors, museum exhibition rooms and outdoor spaces)—were sensible yet challenging to the status quo of the 1960’s when she did her first choreographic experiments with her all-female quintet. [more]

Life x 3

November 28, 2018

"Life X 3" was first seen in 2003 at the Circle in the Square.  This revival is tauter and funnier.  Perhaps this smaller venue refracts the play in a different way, but these four actors are more convincingly real, not to mention greater pains in the butt.  As the title implies, they get three chances to reveal—and revel in—their egos and idiosyncrasies, each succeeding part bringing out both nuances and bombshells. [more]

Tom Pain (based on nothing)

November 23, 2018

Hall is not helped by an over-zealous production that, for some reason, turns the Signature’s Irene Diamond Stage into a construction site, complete with drop cloths, ceiling netting and lots of ladders ringing the stage—an odd, misleading choice by set designer Amy Rubin. Jen Schriever’s lighting manages to make this set mysterious. Schriever is also tasked with following Hall/Pain in his travels into the auditorium, using houselights along with stage lights with great skill. [more]

The New York Pops – Song and Dance:  The Best of Broadway

November 22, 2018

The New York Theatre Ballet performed the lovely, all-female, “Come to Me, Bend to Me” from that musical, a sweet look at pre-wedding preparations in the ancient village of Brigadoon.  That troupe began with two excerpts from de Mille’s groundbreaking “Dream Ballet” from "Oklahoma!" and her “Hornpipe” from another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, "Carousel" (1945), its fishermen bouncing about while on the hunt for female companionship. [more]

King Kong

November 20, 2018

Designed by Johnny Tilders, the puppet Kong is phenomenal, a 20-foot tall, 2,000 pound marionette operated by the ten-person King’s Company, members of the cast assigned to operating the arms, legs and body of Kong, with the facial expressions controlled by exacting machinery that endows this artificial creation with real emotions.  The roaring and other vocalizations are amplifications of the offstage voice of Jon Hoche.  The results are not just fascinating, but eminently entertaining and even moving. [more]

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]
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