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Off-Broadway

Jelly’s Last Jam (New York City Center Encores!)

February 26, 2024

Does the New York City Center Encores! new production of "Jelly’s Last Jam" hold up against the original Broadway production (1992-1993) which starred Gregory Hines (Tony Award), Savion Glover, Keith David and Tonya Pinkins (Tony Award)? Yes, it does and makes a good case for Jam’s enjoying a strong future.  This production, directed with verve and precision by Robert O’Hara, is both a fine musical and a fine drama, a diamond in the crown that is the Encores! thirty-year history. [more]

Five, The Parody Musical

February 25, 2024

When she arrives dressed in a white pant suit, Labeija steals the stage with Hillary’s number “Miss Me Now” which trumps them all with a series of Broadway parodies paying tribute to Clinton’s love of the theater, with recognizable quotes from "The Sound of Music," "Company," "Gypsy," "Chicago," "Evita," "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and "Dreamgirls." However, while all of this is clever, at times the show becomes “can you identify this parody.” A “Six Mixalot” for the company takes the same place as “The Megasix” in "Six." Lena Gabrielle does fine work with the four-person all-female band but the sound design by Bailey Trierweiler, Kevin Heard and Uptown Works is often too loud for this small Off Broadway theater. [more]

White Rose: The Musical

February 1, 2024

While we are presented with characters who are doing a noble thing and can be touched by what they go through to accomplish their task, Brian Belding’s book and lyrics repeatedly take us out of 1942. In breaking up a fight between her brother and her old flame, Sophie blurts, “Are we seriously doing this?!”…Seriously? The tone is not “then” in 1942, it’s a university student of present day. When Willi walks in on the scene, he asks “What the f*@k is going on?!” We don’t doubt the impulse behind it, but was that really the vernacular in 1942? Natalie Brice’s score has its moments with some of the solos, but the full company songs sound like retreads of "Les Miserables" chorus numbers. “Munich” sounds like “Blind Eye” sounds like “Why Are You Here?” sounds like “The Mess They Made” sounds like “We Will Not Be Silent.” All are full throttle songs with the same sentiment, so why are there so many? [more]

Once Upon a Mattress (New York City Center Encores!)

January 30, 2024

Of course, in true American musical theater form the elegant Princess has been transformed into the bedraggled and uncouth Winnifred (Foster, in her best goofy guise, proving her talent knows no boundaries).  Winnie answers the call to audition to be the bride of the equally goofy Prince Dauntless (Michael Urie, funny, but hampered by his material’s lack of sophistication while taking a busman’s holiday after recently departing from "Spamalot)". The marvelously imperious Harriet Harris plays Dauntless’ mother, Queen Aggravain married to the mute, but highly communicative King Sextimus the Silent (David Patrick Kelly, adorable). [more]

The Greatest Hits Down Route 66

January 28, 2024

The title of Michael Aguirre’s "The Greatest Hits Down Route 66," the story of the Franco family’s road trip during the summer of 1999, refers to Carl Sandburg’s 1927 "The American Songbag,' a best-selling collection of early folksongs. Aguirre tells us that “the goal is to use music as a memory, an imprint, incidental. It should carry emotional weight but don’t depend on it to move the plot forward.” And that is the problem with the show: the songs are extraneous to the plot and have little impact as most of the 13 songs sung are so familiar, in the musical arrangements of Grace Yukich and Jennifer C. Dauphinais. There are no surprises in the music played by a three piece band and a lead vocalist, Hannah-Kathryn “HK” Wall. Occasionally, the narrator played by Joél Acosta joins in or sings a song himself. [more]

Brighter than the Sun

January 19, 2024

Hendley is solid in his performance as the narrator of his and his grandmother’s story. His presentation commands attention without demand, smoothly and effortlessly focusing on the words being spoken. He has created a show with a strong storyline but needs a rework of the structure. Although his narrational guidance is well-written and beautifully presented, it adds too much exposition when perhaps the information could be dramatized. [more]

Becoming Chavela

December 25, 2023

Ranchera is a style of traditional Mexican folk music with origins in the ranchos of rural Mexico. The songs are about love, patriotism, or nature and are usually sung by men. The vocals have a rough, raw quality in contrast to the more refined vocalizations of the urban singers. In Mexico City, Chavela defied the norms and sang rancheras with her style and interpretations while staying true to the rawness of delivery and the ideas expressed by the lyrics. Trudeau transforms herself into Chavela with an on-stage costume change and then provides solid interpretations of some of Vargas’ classic rancheras as she takes the audience on an exploration of Vargas' life in Mexico City, a brief time in Cuba and to the mid-1970’s when she stopped performing as a result of all the tequila she had consumed over the years. Although Trudeau's voice is more refined, she still delivers the songs with all the passion and fire needed in some and the introspection and sadness in others. Her embodiment of Vargas is complete. [more]

Buena Vista Social Club

December 20, 2023

While the exciting new stage musical Buena Vista Social Club shares the same name with the acclaimed 1999 documentary by Wim Wenders, playwright Marco Ramirez’s book for the new show takes a different approach to the true story now under the direction and development of go-to director Saheem Ali (Fat Ham) for new work by people of color. While the film took us to the recording studio and then interviewed or followed the daily lives of the major singers and musicians involved ultimately taking us to their July 1, 1998 Carnegie Hall concert, the stage show instead tells the 1956 backstory of several of the main characters after we meet them at the 1996 recording session. Although the film made the male singers Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo the main characters, the musical puts the focus on recording star Omara Portuondo. Both approaches contain the original songs sung by the Cuban music group of old timers that came together in 1996 to record an album of almost forgotten Cuban songs making both versions documents of the highest authenticity. [more]

An Axemas Story

December 7, 2023

Despite its fairy-tale plot, Axemas isn’t really suitable for children because of language and sexual situations, but everyone else will find something amusing in this rag-taggle production.  An Axemas Story could use some tightening and more professional looking scenery, but it’s tongue-in-cheek fun, nevertheless. The score is beautifully played under the musical direction of Sara Linger and the keyboard expertise of Buck McDaniel. [more]

Killin’ Republicans

December 6, 2023

"Killin’ Republicans," concept and libretto by Dick D. Zigun and music by Arturo Rodriquez, directed by vagabond, is billed as a rock opera about violence towards certain Republican Party leaders since the mid-nineteenth century. It deals with a series of assassinations and attempted assassinations of Republican leaders from the 1850s to President Reagan in 1981. It is supposed to be a discussion about the reasons for the attacks and not a call for violence against Republicans. The entire show is sung or performed in spoken form in various styles as more of a concept concert than an opera. The libretto covers a wide range of events attempting to give context to the multiple incidents but fails to clarify the point of the show. It is a mistake in its present form. [more]

The Jerusalem Syndrome: A Musical Comedy of Biblical Proportions

December 4, 2023

"The Jerusalem Syndrome" is a pleasant new musical comedy with some fine clever songs and good comic moments. However, Don Stephenson’s production does not take the farcical elements far enough nor does he allow the cast to really have fun with their wacky roles. Playing this material mainly straight undercuts the inherent fun in the premise and plot as the Jerusalem syndrome is ripe for satire. [more]

The Gardens of Anuncia

December 3, 2023

Michael John LaChiusa’s "The Gardens of Anuncia" is an interesting attempt to tell choreographer Graciela Daniele’s adolescent story. Unfortunately, as of now the show does not make the case that her coming of age was that eventful or compelling. What we might like to know is about her famed career, but that sort of presentation has been done in "Fosse," "Jerome Robbins’ Broadway," and "Prince of Broadway," the Harold Prince story. "The Gardens of Anuncia" is pleasant enough but leaves one hungry for more. The magical realism elements might be more fleshed out and some of the unanswered questions that are coyly handled might be revealed. [more]

Hell’s Kitchen

November 29, 2023

"Hell’s Kitchen" is both ambitious and noble in its intentions. However, as of now the show on the stage of The Newman at The Public Theater is not there yet. With very few characters developed and too many unanswered questions, the show’s book needs a simple rewrite. The Alicia Keys' score which too often sounds the same could use a reshaping to find some climactic moments other than the drama in the story. The plot lines need to come together more, rather than as disparate elements that take us in new directions all the time. Ultimately, Hell’s Kitchen has great potential when these problems are addressed. [more]

Amid Falling Walls (Tsvishn Falndike Vent)

November 27, 2023

Director Matthew “Motl” Didner manages to make what might have been just a well-staged concert of moving songs into a dramatic whole with a deep feeling for the ebb and flow of emotions from happiness to hopelessness. "Amid Falling Walls"—an apt title, unfortunately, still consequential in 2023—does come during a spike in anti-Semitism.  Though an entertainment, the show provides ample historical evidence of blind prejudice.  If only the message could register. [more]

School Pictures

November 26, 2023

Milo Cramer’s delightful solo musical "School Pictures," part of a festival of new one person shows running in repertory at Playwrights Horizons, is wildly inventive, hilarious funny, and extremely insightful about adolescence, class, over-privilege and the New York education system. Almost entirely sung throughout, School Pictures tells us in a series of 11 songs about Cramer’s experiences working as a private tutor in NYC after school with mostly rich, brilliant students who are damaged by their parents – and their own – expectations. All of them hope to get into one of the eight elite specialized high schools for which they will need the SHSAT (Specialized High School Admissions Test) or top colleges and the competition as both the parents and students know is fierce. [more]

Emergence: Things Are Not As They Seem

October 28, 2023

Olson might very well be the three-way love child of Thomas Dolby, Bill Irwin, and Max Headroom. He carries the show with an unbridled, infectious, childlike enthusiasm, sharing what he knows and loves--science and music--using songs he wrote in his car and lyrics that support his storytelling. He puts on this show like a life-long project that he couldn’t wait to find the barn for. Olson reels us all in as he fills our minds with profundities in the same ease and flair he might have if he were telling us an evening of dad jokes. He shares postulates about time, space, color, light, thought, consciousness, love, and existence, in easy-to-grasp terms using purposeful words and with exquisite imagery. [more]

(pray)

October 15, 2023

nicHi douglas’ vision is one of evocative beauty, one that gives us stage pictures to treasure for some time. The seated women fanning themselves with beautiful white fans as they watch one of their own reading a passage or singing is a natural touch. Even the graphic for the show gives us pause – the word “pray” surrounded by two hands creating the parentheses denotes how personal the power of an individual’s prayer is. douglas’ church is almost utopian in its design in that it welcomes all with no judgment…even the “mixed company” of whites present at the service who might be startled by how genuinely euphoric the service is. Her choreography, like her direction, is empowered by a true spirit of celebration, reminiscent of the great Alvin Ailey masterwork, "Revelations." [more]

The Picher Project

October 13, 2023

"The Picher Project" is a bluegrass and folk-infused musical conceived and directed by Quentin Madia, with music, book, and lyrics by Madia and Lauren Pelaia. This show is based on real-life events that are not only a part of Oklahoma's history but also of the social and industrial history of the United States. Through words and songs, the story is told of how this gentle, quiet, rural area became the center of lead and zinc mining in North America, only to end up dead as the number one most polluted place in the United States. [more]

Saw The Musical: The Unauthorized Parody of Saw

October 6, 2023

"Saw The Musical: The Unauthorized Parody of Saw" begins with a picture perfect recreation of the disgusting bathroom from the first movie in the iconic horror franchise. Then the puppet (Billy) shows up, wishing us a hearty "Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome." (Note: this review has spoilers for "Saw" the movie as well as "Saw The Musical.") The show is impressively done with a cast of three (with the exception of Detective Tapp, played via voiceover by Donnel Johnson). Danny Durr plays Gordon and Zepp, Adam Parbhoo plays Adam and Gordon's daughter Diana, and on opening night Gabrielle Goodman played Amanda, Ali and Jigsaw. Goodman in particular stands out with a lovely voice and excellent dance skills, but all three turn in solid performances. (Durr's wig is so good it deserves its own program credit.) [more]

Twisted

October 5, 2023

It takes considerable skill for competent actors to play at being bad actors, and many of the cast members succeed. It is not a bad play, but the overarching problem with the show is that it is playing to a niche audience. If you do not know anything about the B-movies of the 50’s and 60’s, you will react as I did in thinking it is a terrible play. If you are familiar with the work of Roger Corman, William Castle, or any other B-film directors, or any of the films, such as "Galaxy of Terror," "The Little Shop of Horrors," "The Tingler," "The Curse of the Werewolf," or any of the dozen movies of that period, you may enjoy this production [more]

Golden Rainbow

October 4, 2023

The 1968 musical 'Golden Rainbow" (the show that gave us the song sensation “I’ve Gotta Be Me”) was so identified with its stars Steve Lawrence and Edie Gormé that it has not been seen in 55 years. When it was suggested to composer Walter Marks that he revisit the show, he found it had so much material created specifically for the Lawrences that it was no longer revivable. Instead he has written a new version of the original book by the late Ernest Kinoy (his collaborator on the Broadway musical "Bajour") as well as five new songs. The results are a small but appealing musical comedy with a terrific jazzy score as directed and choreographed by Stuart Ross. [more]

Doris Day: My Secret Love

September 17, 2023

Borelli as Doris Day is charming and appealing; her voice is not quite as strong as Day’s, but it is pretty and expressive, especially in quieter, more intimate moments. At the peak of some songs, where she’s expected to sing out fully and with passion, her voice doesn’t quite have the strength. [more]

Relapse: A New Musical

September 8, 2023

In "Relapse" ’s most original conceit, a quartet called The Intrusive (Vinny Celerio, Audree Hedequist, Nicole Lamb and Zummy Mohammed) becomes a Greek Chorus, insinuating themselves into the minds of the four unhappy patients while commenting on the inner workings of their care.  The four are nimble, vivid and sing well, choreographed by Freyani Patrice whose movements ooze, flit and crawl about the stage as these four surround each character. [more]

The Tempest (Public Works)

August 31, 2023

Visually, the show is not as effective as it might have been considering the play usually includes a great deal of magic. Here there is very little in the way of scenic illusions or legerdemain. Alexis Distler’s setting which makes use of some elements of the design for Hamlet, the previous staging on the Delacorte stage, a falling down mansion seemingly off its foundation, adds little to the production’s visuals. Except for the stunning harpy costume for Ariel by Wilberth Gonzalez, the rest of the designs are more than bland. The all-black leather creations for the Europeans give the production a contemporary look that feels out of place. The dozens of community partners dressed in matching blue and yellow outfits have been given little to do besides stand around as witnesses or hum to the large-scale musical numbers. [more]

How to Steal an Election: A Dirty Politics Musical

August 29, 2023

While the misnamed "How to Steal an Election: A Dirty Politics Musical" is no lost masterpiece and at times seems long, it is a diverting political revue which offers an interesting take on the politics of the last 180 years. With the charming Jason Graae at the helm, the rest of the talented cast keeps the show rolling merrily along. New faces Emma Degerstedt, Alex Joseph Grayson, Courtney Arango, Kelly Berman and Drew Tanabe demonstrate that they should have very successful and acclaimed careers before them from their work here. [more]

Cat Kid Comic Club

August 7, 2023

The family-oriented TheaterWorksUSA’s latest musical adaptation of the best-selling children’s novels of Dev Pilkey is "Cat Kid Comic Club: The Musical," an exuberant colorful one hour irreverent entertainment for children of all ages. Written by Kevin Del Aguila (book and lyrics) and Brad Alexander (music) who previously wrote the highly successful "Dog Man: The Musical" from the earlier Pilkey series, "Cat Kid Comic Club" is surprisingly faithful to the book of the same name and will not disappoint its many fans. With clever and imaginative direction by Marlo Hunter and her design team which uses puppets as well as live actors, the hard-working cast of six (almost all of whom appeared in TheaterWorks’ "Dog Man" musical) play multiple roles to tell this hilarious and surprising story. [more]

Chanteuse

July 16, 2023

The Nazis persecuted not only Jews, political opponents and its own, but also homosexuals.  Jews were forced to wear the infamous yellow stars; gays, the pink triangle. Alan Palmer, in his one-man show "Chanteuse" at HERE Arts Center, gives an intimate, heartbreaking look at one victim—fictional or not—that turns impersonal facts into passionate theater. [more]

Good Vibrations: A Punk Rock Musical

July 6, 2023

Terri Hooley (a game, genial Glen Wallace) is both the main character and the narrator of "Good Vibrations: A Punk Rock Musical" at the sparkling Irish Arts Center.  How he morphed from Terry to Terri is a bloody tale that opens the show, albeit with a bit of winking Irish humor. Written by Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson, "Good Vibrations" takes place in the 1970’s in a Belfast rife with violence, at the height of the inter-religious disturbances in Northern Ireland called The Troubles and is based on the 2012 film of the same name (which they also wrote).  Terri Hooley is a real person and Good Vibrations paints a mostly complimentary portrait of this man who was so important to the music scene in Belfast. [more]

In Corpo

June 30, 2023

Press materials promise a work that is inspired by Kafka's "The Castle" and Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener." Both are name checked – the lead character is called K, played by a clear-voiced Zoe Siegel, and there is even a Bartleby (Austin Owens Kelly, doing triple duty on synthesizer and later acoustic guitar) who says "I prefer not to" very often – but "In Corpo" also owes something to Vaclav Havel's "The Memorandum" with its depiction of bureaucracy gone mad. Of course, not even Havel could have envisioned the tyranny of the complex password, something "In Corpo" uses to excellent comic effect. The show is at its best when it satirizes things that everyone has to deal with, such as passwords and inane tasks. [more]

Rock & Roll Man

June 29, 2023

"Rock & Roll Man," the new jukebox/biographical musical at the New World Stages has a great deal going for it. The story of legendary Rock & Roll impresario Alan Freed is told in a series of delicious period songs with a few original works (by Gary Kupper who also cowrote the libretto with Larry Marshak and Rose Caiola) thrown in. The show is basically factual, although a tad exaggerated, and doesn’t shy away from Freed’s well-known issues such as his alcoholism and taking payola. Best of all, the cast is led by Constantine Maroulis in a complicated, fine-tuned and, for him, subdued performance. [more]

The Gospel According to Heather

June 24, 2023

"The Gospel According to Heather," with book, music, and lyrics by Paul Gordon, is a story about a teenager's struggles with fitting in with her contemporaries, finding a boyfriend, and dealing with the supernatural powers which she seems to have acquired after finding a Roman coin in a fish. On the surface, this show appears to be a coming-of-age tale with music, but it is much more: it is a cleverly done and, at times, pointed commentary on the socio-political nature of contemporary America, and of religion. [more]

The Light in the Piazza

June 23, 2023

New York City Center Encores!’s new production of the musical, directed by Chay Yew, stars another Tony Award winner, the sensational Ruthie Ann Miles, as the determined Margaret Johnson with beautiful-voiced Anna Zavelson as a believably three-dimensional Clara. The Encores! production is more down-to-earth than either the film or the original Lincoln Center production and more satisfying as a human drama.  There’s no stinting on humor, but the characters’ formerly trivial problems now seem more worthy of our attention. [more]
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