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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.

Incident at Vichy

November 28, 2015

Arthur Miller is having a great posthumous 100th birthday! "A View from a Bridge" opened on Broadway to sensational reviews to be followed soon by "The Crucible." Now a revival of "Incident at Vichy," his frightening, microcosmic examination of Nazi-occupied France during the height of World War II, is enjoying a fine revival at the Signature Theatre. While the first two plays are each experiencing radical re-assessments, the director of Vichy, Michael Wilson has opted for a straight-forward, naturalistic interpretation in which each character exists as a finely etched portrait and the set (by Jeff Cowie) is a real, frightening place down to the period French newspapers plastering the holes in the windows. [more]

Pilobolus’ Shadowland

November 26, 2015

"Shadowland" follows the young girl, played to perfection by Heather Jeane Favretto, on a surreal journey, exposing her fears and pleasures, leaving her forever changed. A true collaborative adventure, the show is the product of the inventive minds of Steven Banks, Robby Barnett, Renée Jaworski, Matt Kent, Itamar Kubovy and Michael Tracy along with input from the original cast members. This resulted in some inevitable unevenness of style and a few too sudden changes in mood, but the mind-boggling complexity of the choreography and stagecraft (including superb lighting by Neil Peter Jampolis, constantly morphing sets by Neil Patel and very sexy costumes by Liz Prince) plus the witty presentation of the wandering storyline, makes for an overwhelming theatrical experience. [more]

Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour

November 24, 2015

Twyla Tharp is a choreographer who can infuriate and charm audiences in equal measure. (Paul Taylor also comes to mind.) Her choreography is clearly the result of an intensely fertile mind, but her very personal, quirky movement style often seems arbitrary and unmusical. Her program at the David H. Koch Theater, marking the end of her 50th Anniversary Tour, was filled with her quirky idiosyncratic, non-stop movements, beautifully danced, but finally becoming an onslaught of just too many ideas—some corny, some brilliant—flung at the music and the audience. [more]

Dada Woof Papa Hot

November 20, 2015

It was inevitable that legalized gay marriage would lead to plays about gay parenthood. "Dada Woof Papa Hot," Peter Parnell’s sweet-natured, but frustratingly narrow-focused, new play at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater explores the kind of child rearing issues formerly supposedly experienced only by straight couples, at least straight couples with large bank accounts. To bring the theme of gay marriage further into the mainstream, divorce also rears its ugly head. [more]

Sylvie Guillem: Life in Progress

November 18, 2015

On a portal shaped screen, films of Ms. Guillem (by the very clever Elias Benxon) are soon substituted by Ms. Guillem in the flesh. She disappeared behind this doorway, only to reappear in the video. When she got away from the screen, rolling and tilting, raising her great legs with soft expressiveness, the projected images changed to a group of people and a dog. She slowly danced her way back to the doorway, joining the filmed community and wandering off into a bare, white space. What a transcendent way to say good-bye. For once, all the technical, choreographic and story elements gelled into a lovely whole. [more]

Circa: Opus

November 12, 2015

The sobriquet “tricks” is probably not a fair or adequate description of the acrobatic feats these fourteen gymnasts displayed. Their tours de force included: balancing upon each others’ shoulders like giant totem poles; forming arches in backbends upon which others balanced; hanging precariously from ropes and stretches of cloth; and forming impossibly balanced sculptures. They hung off each other. They rolled on the floor and on each other. They formed lines and circles that communicated a certain sense of communal camaraderie, but little else. Gender didn’t seem to matter: women did as much lifting as the men. [more]

Sylvia

November 9, 2015

Directed with comfortable assurance and a leisurely sense of timing, this "Sylvia" benefits from a (mostly) strong cast, including three Tony Award winners: Matthew Broderick (whose wife Sarah Jessica Parker played the title role in the original off-Broadway production), Julie White and Annaleigh Ashford. The brilliant, versatile Robert Sella who expertly and drolly plays three diverse roles, rounds out the cast. [more]

Ripcord

November 3, 2015

Holland Taylor and Marylouise Burke in a scene from “Ripcord” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus) Joel [more]

Broadway Close Up: William Finn

October 29, 2015

Two veterans of the most recent revival of On the Town were splendid interpreters of Finn’s songs. First, Stephen DeRosa conjured a second-rate out-of-town production of "March of the Falsettos" populated by egos and amateurs. He sang “The Baseball Game” brilliantly-and schizophrenically—taking on each character of this bitingly satirical song. Later he sang the scathing, sexually explicit “Republicans” in which a liberal gets even with a Republican in an unprintable way. Then his colleague Alysha Umphress sang a rousing “Set Those Sails” ("In Trousers") and “Change” ("A New Brain"), both songs dealing differently with moving on. Ms. Umphress’s “Song of the Full Refrigerator,” about the temptations of food—“eat first and get depressed later”—was scarily right on the money. [more]

José Limón International Dance Festival

October 29, 2015

The Limón Dance Company celebrated its 70th Anniversary by presenting the José Limón International Dance Festival at the Joyce Theater. The Limón dancers joined forces with several other companies in six programs of works by this master modern dance choreographer who died in 1972. His legacy has been tended to by subsequent generations of dancers, directed since 1978 by the indefatigable Carla Maxwell who was herself a pre-eminent Limón interpreter. [more]

H.T. Chen & Dancers: “South of Gold Mountain”

October 23, 2015

"South of Gold Mountain," the latest dance work from the iconic Chinatown-based H.T. Chen & Dancers, is a warmhearted, historically-based piece that illuminated the experiences of the hardy Chinese immigrants who settled in the Deep South during the nineteenth and twentieth century. (“Gold Mountain” is a reference to the Gold Rush area, and subsequently the U.S.A., which attracted immigrants of all nationalities.) It is a corner of American history barely acknowledged, let alone studied or dramatized. [more]

Eryc Taylor Dance: “The Exhibit”

October 23, 2015

Mr. Taylor, who was the “stylist” on all works, shared this credit with Mr. Patterson and Andy Corsten. Often the choreography looked like slow-motion Vogue-ing, with faces either glaring or emotion free. It’s easy to see the appeal of his work which is sexy, exhibitionist, vaguely mysterious and undemanding to the eye or mind. Mr. Taylor clearly has a vision and philosophy and sticks with it. [more]

The Gin Game

October 20, 2015

Now the frail-seeming, but elegant Cicely Tyson and imposing, stout-voiced James Earl Jones have taken on "The Gin Game" and make it totally their own, finding nuances in every line, filling in the silences with the kinds of reactions that make live theater an electric experience. [more]

General Mischief Dance Theatre: Up and Away

October 20, 2015

The choreography, mostly by Emily Smyth Vartanian, tends toward the musically unsophisticated, combining ballet (piqué turns, little jumps, attitude and arabesque poses), jazz (sassy turned in knees and jazz hands) and Latin American influences (hip waggles and shimmying shoulders) all punctuated with giant smiles and an appealing air of merriment. The dancers are steady and personable and jolly performing the steps joyfully. They all relate to each other—and the audience—beautifully. Costumes are colorful versions of dancewear and street clothes. [more]

Hard Love

October 12, 2015

The revelation of the play is Mr. Lerner’s detailed knowledge of both the orthodox sect and its place in modern Israeli society. He manages to make the age-old arguments of secular versus religious fresh and human scaled, not judging either of the characters, but observing them. [more]

“Les Misérables” Revisited

October 6, 2015

Two starry new cast members add luster to the show: English musical and opera star Alfie Boe as the tragic Jean Valjean and Tony Award nominee Montego Glover as the ill-fated Fantine. Their fresh takes on these characters—their often surprising choices—are in synch with the directors’ emphasis on the inner lives of this colorful panoply of Victor Hugo’s mid-nineteenth century French characters. [more]

Career Transition for Dancers: 30th Anniversary Pearl Jubilee

October 1, 2015

Ann Marie DeAngelo, the longtime producer and director of the Career Transition for Dancers: 30th Anniversary Pearl Jubilee, has outdone herself this year with a smooth and satisfying program, balancing entertaining dance numbers with just the right amount of speechifying. Adding appearances by Broadway and TV star Bebe Neuwirth, prima ballerina Cynthia Gregory and Hollywood royalty, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas and (Rolex honoree) Shirley MacLaine to the mix, resulted in a gala that out-gala-ed the previous ones. [more]

The Legend of Georgia McBride

September 29, 2015

Lopez knows these characters and how they speak. He is helped immensely by his director Mike Donahue who allows just enough comic exaggeration without ever letting the show become a cartoon. Paul McGill’s hilarious choreography for the drag acts is right on target. Donyale Werle’s single set is wonderfully adaptable, changing from the grungy dressing room at Cleo’s to its stage to Casey and Jo’s apartment with just the shifting of a wardrobe rack and a couch. Anita Yavich’s costumes are a show in themselves, maybe a bit too posh for the Panama City venue but a hoot nonetheless. [more]

Balanchine’s Harlequinade: Commedia dell’arte Explored

September 27, 2015

Dance historian Doug Fullington of the Pacific Northwest Ballet was the expert who, using slides and excerpts from both the Balanchine and Petipa versions, showed how each choreographer envisioned the interactions of such Commedia stalwart characters as Harlequin, Colombine, Pierrot, Pierrette, the Doctor and Pantalone, each with their own idiosyncratic personality quirks and historically recognizable costumes. Commedia dell’Arte has had enormous influence on painters (Watteau, Picasso), theater and even films (Chaplin, the Marx Brothers) with its pratfalls and slapstick and colorful personalities. [more]

Fulfillment

September 24, 2015

"Fulfillment" by the always surprising Thomas Bradshaw is about anything but the contentment and success implied by its ironic title. The Flea Theater’s production, directed to emphasize its undercurrents of eroticism and anger by Ethan McSweeny, is both shocking and sad. The audience witnesses the almost classically Greek downfall of a man done in by his own weaknesses. Anger, lust, pride and greed does in the central character. [more]

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan: Rice

September 22, 2015

Opening this year’s Next Wave series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music was the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan’s "Rice," a ritualistic ballet conceived and choreographed by Lin Hwai-min. Though not the usual cutting edge, avant-garde event that the words “Next Wave” imply, Cloud Gate did provide an excuse for a gala opening. [more]

Whistleblower

September 18, 2015

Dendy uses his fertile imagination to tell Manning’s story beginning with his repressed childhood, on through enlisting in the Army where he was trained in computer technology. He brings in homophobia, prejudice of the transgendered, legal bureaucracy, the propaganda machinery, etc., with a wit and a cartoony, over-the-top sensibility, all with a core of sadness and anger, particularly at the absurdly long sentence that Chelsea received. [more]

A Delicate Ship

September 7, 2015

Anna Ziegler’s "A Delicate Ship" is an intelligent, intensely absorbing play that treats its three thirty-something characters like chess pieces moving warily about Reid Thompson’s raised platform apartment set, floating amidst a rock garden which becomes a life-sized game board. [more]

Love & Money

September 4, 2015

"Love & Money" is light, literate entertainment, impeccably acted by its small cast led by the charismatic Ms. Anderman. Mr. Paulik amusingly projects his lack of experience while putting up a gruff front. Ms. Dunlap’s Agnes is priceless. Mr. Brown is a tad too much of a whirlwind as Walker, but as his façade cracks, he warms up nicely. Ms. Kim is onstage for less than four minutes, but made a good impression. [more]

John

August 31, 2015

Baker fills "John" with telling details, from the food (ever hear of Sailor’s Duff?) to hidden rooms to specifics of Gettysburg, that keep the play from floating away into total surrealism. She is helped by Mimi Lien’s extraordinarily detailed set which evokes worlds within worlds with its amazing array of tchotchkes, perfectly chosen furniture, a player piano that erupts at odd moments, ceiling fans lazily, but ineffectively whirring, and a multitude of doors. Mark Barton’s atmospheric lighting is perfection. Ásta Bennie Hostetter’s costumes are well thought-out and Bray Poor’s sound design gives eerie life to the show. [more]

“On the Town” Revisited with Misty Copeland

August 29, 2015

Then, there’s the new cast member, Misty Copeland, the newly minted American Ballet Theater principal ballerina, who has taken over the role of Ivy Smith, the catalyst for the daffy, warm-hearted plot of the show. Formerly inhabited with sweetness and steely technique by another ballet star, Megan Fairchild, the role of Ivy Smith fits Ms. Copeland perfectly. She makes it her own the moment she’s murmurs “Who, me?” in “Presentation of Miss Turnstiles,” the witty send-up of beauty competitions. [more]

Solo For Two

August 11, 2015

Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, two brilliant Russian ballet stars, have assemble an ad hoc mini-ballet troupe of like-minded dance artists who are unafraid to face the challenges of new work, eschewing the classics that made them famous. Although the three new ballets weren’t all successful—and were a bit overlong—the dancing throughout was superb. [more]

Amazing Grace

July 27, 2015

Famously, it was an 18th century slave trader who redeemed himself, after many gruesome twists and turns in his life, by writing this song. Told with something approaching accuracy, "Amazing Grace" nevertheless is less than compelling as both history and theater. What might have been a fascinating tale has been reduced to a melodrama complete with a villain who all but twirls his mustache, a hard-to-win love interest, an African princess who provides an excuse for some passionate dancing and many examples of physical and emotional torture of slaves, all accompanied by a series of soaring contemporary ballads. [more]

Broadway Unplugged 2015

July 26, 2015

An astounding array of Broadway singers triumphantly performed without any electronic assistance at Scott Siegel’s Broadway Unplugged 2015 at The Town Hall. All were terrific. Several were magical. Most pre-1960’s shows were unamplified. The act of listening was different then. Technology has changed all that. Some believe performances are more nuanced today. Others miss the excitement of hearing “real” voices. Whatever one’s opinion, Scott Siegel assembled a program that clearly showed what we’ve been missing lately. [more]

BalaSole Dance Company: Salmagundi

July 21, 2015

Roberto Villanueva describes BalaSole as “a diverse dance company,” and it is just that. He provides opportunities for dance artists who would otherwise find it difficult to find artistic homes. Villanueva, himself, is a short bundle of energy, hard to place in most companies. Certainly, his "Salmagundi" at the Ailey Citigroup Theater exemplified his philosophy with a series of solos choreographed by ballet, tap, jazz and modern dancers. The word “salmagundi” means a mixed salad, clearly a metaphor for his talented dancer/choreographers. [more]

Momix: Alchemia 

July 21, 2015

The suite of discrete scenes, distinguished by quasi-poetic lines in the program notes and a series of obvious theatrical gimmicks—tall columns that become ancient weapons; ultra-violet light revealing intricate patterns of blood vessels; women gliding about in floor-length gowns that later cocoon them; young lovers floating about each other; mirrored booths that confuse who is where; etc.—paints a vivid portrait of a constantly shifting land populated by gorgeous creatures dressed in astounding costumes by Phoebe Katzin. [more]

Awake and Sing! 

July 16, 2015

"Awake and Sing!" seems at first an odd choice for NAATCO, the acting company dedicated to the advancement of Asian actors, but after an initial wary uneasiness, the cast, under the direction of Stephen Brown-Fried, soon takes command of Odets’ dated language, a mixture of poetic metaphor and heightened colloquialisms which was difficult to speak even in the 1930’s. [more]

Shows for Days

July 13, 2015

The production, directed with oddly erratic pacing by the experienced Jerry Zaks, stars the imperious Patti LuPone as the acidly ambitious Irene, the doyenne of a theatrical troupe in Reading, Pennsylvania, in the early Seventies. Wide-eyed, always ebullient Michael Urie, as Car, Beane’s stand-in, becomes her acolyte/scene painter/receptionist/new playwright in the process of discovering a world his suburban existence never hinted at. He is the author’s glib stand-in who keeps the audience in the loop with apt descriptions, editorial comments and sexual confessions. [more]
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