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Off-Broadway

Pedro Pan

July 17, 2018

Rebecca Aparicio’s book is a skillful fictionalization of the true story of Operation Pedro Pan, which facilitated the immigration of over 14,000 children from Cuba to the United States between December 1960 and October 1962. Ms. Aparicio successfully dramatizes the harsh era of the Castro regime, the promise of freedom in the U.S. and the realities of racism, all through a child’s perspective. The incidents are illustrative, historical facts are imparted, and the dialogue is engagingly simple yet effective. [more]

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever

July 9, 2018

Charlotte Moore’s version streamlines the plot somewhat from Lerner’s original by eliminating Daisy’s fiancé for whom she wants to quit smoking as well as a subplot with Greek shipping magnate Themistocles Kriakos who wishes to fund a study to prove that reincarnation is real. Mark’s brother Dr. Paul Bruckner becomes his colleague Dr Conrad Fuller in this latest version, and the clinic is no longer a family business. The songs, “Tosy and Cosh” and “Don’t Tamper with My Sister,” have been cut, shortening the 18th century story, and two songs added from the National Tour subsequent to the original Broadway run: “Solicitor’s Song” and Daisy’s “He Wasn’t You,” a female version of Edward’s later “She Wasn’t You.” Finally, “Who Is There Among Us Who Knows” (written for the film version but left on the cutting room floor) opens the second act instead of Kriakos’ “When I’m Being Born Again.” [more]

Songs for a New World

July 2, 2018

The unison of Jason Robert Brown’s accomplished score, Kate Whoriskey’s exciting direction and Rennie Harris’s vibrant choreography make this New York City Center Encores! Off-Center’s revival of his 1995 debut show "Songs for a New World," a dynamic theatrical experience. Mr. Brown’s surprise appearance at the piano to play a song in the second act was electrifying. [more]

Carmen Jones

July 1, 2018

Unlike the musicals "Rent" (an update on Puccini’s "La Boheme"), and "Miss Saigon' (inspired by Puccini’s "Madame Butterfly") both of which had all new music by other composers for their contemporary stories, "Carmen Jones" uses the original Bizet score. However, it is not simply an English translation. Hammerstein has written all new lyrics to place the story in a W.W. II Southern community (possibly North Carolina) and with the characters ending up in Chicago for the denouement. While "Carmen Jones" was a smash hit originally running for 503 performances at the Broadway Theatre during the war years, some like then critic James Baldwin found the dialect that Hammerstein had used for his African-American characters both embarrassing and demeaning, and the show has not had a New York revival until now. Notwithstanding, the first London production in 1991-92 was also a tremendous success at the Old Vic Theatre with a mix of both opera and theater stars in the cast. [more]

God Save Queen Pam

June 30, 2018

This is "God Save Queen Pam"’s world premiere and though spirited, it’s sluggish at a full length of two and half hours with an intermission.  There’s repetitiousness, extraneousness and a wan presentation. With editing that enforces more of the plot and higher production values it’s conceivable that its evident whimsical charms could be whipped up into a madcap entertainment.  For now, it’s best viewed as a workshop with potential that showcases the game cast. [more]

Lonesome Blues

June 20, 2018

The show then become energized when Babatundé describes how Jefferson was discovered by a music executive when he was singing on the Texas streets while holding a tin cup. A recording contract follows and Jefferson became a leading blues performer in the 1920’s. Another bright sequence is a recreation of a concert. In the second half, we learn more about Johnson and the narration is more connected to the musical portions as it successfully concludes. [more]

Desperate Measures

June 14, 2018

Shakespearean spoofs are almost as old as Shakespeare himself, dating back to at least the Restoration period. Although the vast majority has faded into history, there are still some real standouts like the classic musical "Kiss Me, Kate," which thanks largely to Cole Porter is arguably even more enjoyable than its source material, a rare feat that the relatively new musical "Desperate Measures," now in its second off-Broadway run, also accomplishes. [more]

The Beast in the Jungle

May 28, 2018

While "The Beast in the Jungle" is a musical for our time it contains a message that was dear to the heart of writer Henry James, that of the unlived life. Ultimately very moving when the story reaches its conclusion, the exquisite Vineyard Theatre production is for elite tastes but all dedicated theatergoers, not the casual entertainment seekers, should see it. It may well start a new trend in theatre musicals, one in which the emotional sections are danced rather than sung. [more]

Molasses in January

May 28, 2018

Standing in the way of the show’s success is the workshop-like production. Some of Pellegrino’s melodies are pleasant but musical director Michael Wittenberg’s piano playing drowns out many of the weak voices. The lyrics tend to be very thin and extremely repetitious. The uncredited set is actually that of another show with unnecessary portions covered over in brown cloth, giving the look of the show no atmosphere whatever. The uncredited costumes are mainly coordinated in bland brown and white which does not help recall the period one bit. Stone’s choreography is extremely basic and not very decorative. If you sit on the left side of the theater, you are likely to be blinded periodically by designer Christina Verde’s two spotlights aimed right into the eyes of the viewers. [more]

Me and My Girl

May 14, 2018

Mr. Carlyle’s giddy opening is a thrilling mise-en-scène of a chorus line of servants, floating props and a grand back drop of a miniature representation of the country estate where the action is set. Act II starts with a rollicking cricket and tennis on the lawn segment showcasing cast members in gleaming casual wear and the commanding gyrations of Mark Evans who wonderfully plays a fatuous cad. There’s also a daffy number where portraits of ancestors in clothing of different eras come to life and dance. [more]

Unexpected Joy

May 10, 2018

With a Judy Collins-style mane of blonde hair and wearing jeans and suede, the sleek Luba Mason as Joy certainly looks the part. That mien is reinforced by Ms. Mason’s smoothly conversational vocal inflections and marvelous singing. Mason is totally convincing as the weed-smoking matriarch who follows her heart. [more]

Miss You Like Hell

April 27, 2018

What makes the storytelling riveting are the performances by the talented cast. As the free-spirited Beatriz fighting for her life, Rubin-Vega is at her fiercest and she is a memorable three-dimensional character. Jiménez as the confused, angry Olivia is charming as she reveals her best childhood memories, lists her favorite books which have been a refuge, and grows up in the course of the road trip. David Patrick Kelly and Michael Mulheren are suitably touching as a gay couple who have loved each other for 50 years. Danny Bolero is sensitive as the still grieving widower who takes a shine to Beatriz. [more]

It Came from Beyond

April 27, 2018

In the mode of vibrant Broadway leading ladies of the likes of Donna Murphy is the red haired and vivacious Kaitlyn Baldwin as the home economics teacher, Ms. Benson and as Private Jayne, the assistant to the nutty colonel. Cracking wise with the precision of Eve Arden and exhibiting superior singing and dance skills, Ms. Baldwin invests herself in the material with colossal force as if she were starring in "Wonderful Town" or an edition of "Forbidden Broadway." [more]

One Thousand Nights and One Day

April 23, 2018

In performance, "One Thousand Nights and One Day" is a like a play with songs shoehorned in as none of them forward the story but take the emotional temperature of the characters instead. With all of the actors playing at least two parts, modern and ancient, with little costume change, it is often difficult to be certain where we are at any moment. Some play very similar characters, others play against their earlier incarnation. Erin Ortman’s direction is assured with the characterizations but she cannot solve the problems inherent in the writing. [more]

ms. estrada

April 18, 2018

The Q Brothers Collective (made up of GQ, JQ, Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle) is best known in New York for their hip hop variations on Shakespeare: "Othello: The Remix" in 2016 and "The Bomb-itty of Errors" in 2000. As the entire show is in rhyme and rhythm, there are very few discrete songs, but the couplets come so fast that it is at times difficult to make out the clever lyrics. The upside of the new show has all the hijinks of a teen musical but with the unsophistication of a college parody (the downside). It is the latest musical version of Aristophanes’ most famous comedy, but unlike the 2011 "Lysistrata Jones," "ms. estrada" has eliminated all of the politics for an exploration into the social aspects instead. [more]

The Lucky Ones

April 13, 2018

After the first song, “We are in the house where I grew up,” says Abigail, with the bacon and eggs and toast and tea in the morning, on the first day of a new school year. Adding to the confusion are Abigail’s many family members, including her sisters--one of whom is named Emily (Ashley Pérez Flanagan), not to be confused with her new friend Emma (Adina Verson)--her parents, her aunt (the stalwart Maryann Plunkett) and her cousins. Another part of the problem is that there are simply too many people to be contained on the small stage of the Connelly Theater, which may be why the majority of them begin the show in the balcony in the rear of the auditorium. (The Lucky Ones has been directed with an overcrowded zeal by Anne Kauffman.) [more]

Wicked Frozen

April 11, 2018

Zoe Farmingdale’s book is a tart and good-natured treatment of the salvation of a high school misfit. The cheery, witty and melodious score has lyrics by Ms. Farmingdale and Toby Singer and music by Mr. Singer. An ode to IKEA is particularly catchy. Mr. Singer’s successfully eclectic music is perfectly realized by his arrangements and sound design. [more]

Symphonie Fantastique

April 8, 2018

Twist’s “Creator’s Note” in the program alludes to Wassily Kandinsky’s musical metaphorical paintings and Twist’s youthful attraction to the possibility of using abstract puppetry in combination with music.  The five-part Symphonie, subtitled “Episode in the life of an Artist,” called to him for its color and storyline which vaguely guide his creation although only the changing moods, rhythms and colors of the score seem be the inspiration for the series of moving abstract images that were mostly treats for the eyes, if not the mind—seductive, clever, dreamy, sensually involving, but more a vacation for conscious thought than an intellectual challenge. [more]

Goldstein

April 6, 2018

Michael Roberts’ music is a tuneful assortment of melodies some of which have an appropriate ethnic flavor. Mr. Roberts’ lyrics range from inspired to rudimentary with the overall score being quite charming. The caustic “Visiting Your Mother” stands out as a Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden & Adolph Green-style showstopper as sensationally performed by the appealingly forceful Sarah Beth Pfeifer as Eleanor. [more]

Grand Hotel, The Musical

March 25, 2018

“We'll Take a Glass Together” is an exhilarating production number. Brandon Uranowitz’s animated youthfulness is up to the task of equaling the impact of Michael Jeter’s legendary turn in the original production as the dying bookkeeper enjoying a carefree spree.  Mr. Uranowitz’s limber movements are thrilling as he euphorically undulates up and down flanked by a large gold dance barre carried by the terrific ensemble. [more]

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story

March 22, 2018

Any further comparisons with the Broadway musical "Come From Away" end with the Nova Scotia setting as Chaim and Chaya quickly settle in Montreal where the 19-year-old Chaim marries the 24-year-old Chaya, who lost her husband on the trek from Romania to Russia to escape the pogroms. (Her husband died of typhus, which becomes a recurring theme in the story that unfolds.) To be sure, their tales are “dark” ones, as put together in the play by an apparent descendent Hannah Moscovitch of the real Chaim and Chaya. [more]

Calamity Jane

March 18, 2018

It would be a pleasure to say that Musicals Tonight! is going out on a high but that would not be accurate. While the book by Ronald Hanmer and Phil Park based on the play by Charles K. Freeman is very old-fashioned and the original score by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster is quite derivative, the real problem is with the production staged by Devin Vogel making his Off Broadway directing debut. While the Wild West material suggests color and ambiance, this "Calamity Jane" is devoid of those things. [more]

Speed Queen

March 9, 2018

Hilariously impersonating Marlene Dietrich while playing an accordion, singing and trotting about, is one of the grand highlights of performer Phoebe Legere’s "Speed Queen."  Spanning from W.W. I to the present, it’s a madcap lesbian historical and musical fantasia about Joe Carstairs, for which Legere has written the book and original score.  [more]

Jerry Springer – The Opera

March 9, 2018

"Jerry Springer - The Opera" is not for opera purists nor is for people who are easily offended by four letter words and other bad language of which there is a multitude. However, its irreverence skewers social, religious and political hypocrisy. The New Group’s production directed by John Rando is one of the most exciting musical theater experiences to be currently obtained in New York. It actually seems more relevant in Trump America where this sort of thing is cable-fodder every night of the week. If you are a dedicated theatergoer, miss this show if you dare. [more]

Locked Up Bitches

March 6, 2018

All the good jokes get lost in the onslaught of cast members vying for their moments and looking for the audience’s approval, which admittedly was offered freely.   "Bitches" becomes chaotic, crude and in your face, not to mention clichéd, the clichés hiding behind dirty jokes and blatant shtick.  Raine clearly can’t rein in the cast’s enthusiasm even though they are portraying animals with animal passions. [more]

Folk Wandering

March 6, 2018

They’re friends in the present. Someone picks up yellowed newspaper articles from the past.  Then we’re in New York City’s Lower East Side in 1911. We meet the spunky 13-year-old Roselia.  She is the daughter of immigrants and her goal is to become a muckraking journalist.  An exposé of the local butcher was one of her scoops that have been published.  Her older sister is to marry a genial young man.  Her parents are very affectionate but due to their hardscrabble circumstances it’s decided that after her impending 14th birthday, Roselia will leave school to join her mother and sister in working in a garment factory to bring in more money to the family. This heartbreaking thread is the most substantive, affective and dramatic of the three tales.  The girlish and luminous Lena Hudson makes a great impact as Roselia. Kate Loprest’s practical but maternal characterization of the mother is perfect.  “The House on Ludlow Street” is a haunting song that is woven through the narrative. [more]

Black Light

March 2, 2018

Thus begins the unique show, "Black Light," which is a concert cum confessional. In her sequenced gowns--and there are five costume changes during the 90-minute performance--and with her red lipstick and frizzy, frazzled, dark hair, Jones sometimes provides a strong, alto voice for her intermittent songs, ranging from ballads (“Crossroads”) to hard rock (“Life is motion”). [more]

Subways Are for Sleeping

March 1, 2018

"Subways Are for Sleeping" is a valentine to New York and projection designer Lacey Erb has created atmospheric slides and streaming video of such iconic locations as Grand Central Station, Park Avenue, Rockefeller Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Unfortunately, the original problem with the material has not been solved: Tom and Angie are just not very interesting. They have little or no back story and no outstanding characteristics. As was famously true in the original production, the show is stolen by the secondary leads. With their continually inventive schemes to get through each day, slacker Charlie who lives off his former friends and would-be nightclub performer Martha with her Southern accent are a total delight. Unfortunately, they are off stage most of the time. The rest of the many characters are simply walk-ons. [more]

The Boys from Syracuse

February 18, 2018

The cast seems to have been mostly chosen for their comic skills rather than their singing skills. Nevertheless, Josh Waldren and Matthew Fairless as the visiting travelers turn “Dear Old Syracuse” into a delightful soft shoe number complete with straw hats and canes, and Walden has a lovely duet with Darrell Morris, Jr. as Luciana to “This Can’t Be Love (Because I Feel So Well).” Shapiro's Luce  and Ian Fairlee as Dromio of Ephesus have a big success with the witty, “He and She,” a comic specialty number. However, much of the show has been eroticized and there is a “wink wink” feeling to the overall approach. [more]

Bar Mitzvah Boy

February 15, 2018

"Bar Mitzvah Boy" may not be a top-drawer Jule Styne musical, but Jack Rosenthal’s original story and David Thompson’s new book are excellently observed to have the ring of truth. The family chaos in planning the affair and problems precipitated by the young son’s behavior are sharply and shrewdly detailed enough to be absorbing in a way that all can relate to. Annette Jolles’ production for The York Theatre Company gets a great deal out of the material even in a version without the trappings of a full production. It is also a pleasant surprise to see an unfamiliar musical by major talents which fills in a gap in their careers. [more]

Hey, Look Me Over! New York City Center Encores! at 25

February 10, 2018

Writer-performer Bob Martin recycles his sweater-clad disaffected “Man in the Chair” character from his 2006 Broadway musical "The Drowsy Chaperone." The conceit is that he’s a disgruntled Encores! subscriber who has been chosen to pick his selections for inclusion. Mr. Martin addresses the audience to offer commentary, often tells inside jokes and interacts with the cast.  Depending on one’s sensibilities, this is either an inspired or an insufferable device. However, it doesn’t mar the actual production. [more]

Mr. Chekhov and Mr. Porter

February 2, 2018

The first act is a faithful and skillful hour-long condensation of "The Seagull." The second act is a clever hour-long vaudeville-style amalgam of "The Cherry Orchard," "Uncle Vanya" and "The Three Sisters" in the detailed manner of one of Mel Brooks’ cinematic parodies. [more]

Hallelujah, Baby!

January 31, 2018

While the new cut-down version (performed concert style with book in hand) with nine actors instead of the original 36, now covers 100 years, rather than the sixty in the original show, it still remains a shorthand version of the history of the movement as well as the trials and tribulations of African American performers in show business. Originally written with Lena Horne in mind, when she turned it down the starring role of Georgina Franklin went to newcomer Leslie Uggams and was subsequently revised to accommodate her softer, girl-next-door persona. Although her perky, animated performance won her the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, Laurents was never happy with the compromises made to the show. The more tightly written show which now focuses on four main characters still doesn’t solve all the problems inherent in the material, as directed by Gerry McIntyre it does make for fast-paced musical entertainment with a great many unfamiliar songs. [more]
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