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Off-Broadway

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]

Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin

September 9, 2018

Using a format that has worked for him before in his George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein evenings, Hershey Felder has returned to 59E59 Theaters in a charming biographical musical as legendary songwriter Irving Berlin. As Felder narrates his story becoming Berlin, he also sings and plays over 30 of his most famous songs, as well as some not so familiar today, including “Blue Skies,” “White Christmas” and the iconic, “God Bless America’. [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]

Smokey’s Joe’s Café: The Songs of Leiber & Stoller

August 31, 2018

Although "Smokey Joe’s Café" has been seen in New York before, the new production now at Stage 42 is an entirely different incarnation of the show that still holds the record for Broadway musical revues having racked up 2,036 performances. The new version which again uses nine talented and dynamic singers and dancers, five men and four women, has deleted five songs and added five, rearranged the song list for a new total of 40, and eliminated the intermission. It is now a more streamlined version of the 1995 show. [more]

1969: The Second Man

August 30, 2018

The mellow sound of Brandt’s score proves to be easy listening, but the individual musical numbers do not build to any dramatic climaxes so that the show seems tamer than material concerning depression and alcoholism suggests it should be. However, the ballad forms and guitar/violin instrumentation are pleasant to the ear. Some of Giles’ dialogue which is not part of Aldrin’s story seems extraneous and the show takes a while to get started. "1969: The Second Man" is entertaining enough in this concert form, but needs some work before going to the next level. Jacob Brandt, however, proves to be a talented new musical voice. [more]

Be More Chill

August 27, 2018

"Be More Chill" is an impressive musical version of Ned Vizzini’s cult novel. Not only does it reproduce the plot on stage, it also gives it a high tech look that dramatizes the story where the novel left it to the imagination. Joe Iconis, long thought to be one of the most promising new theater composers, makes good on that promise, and Joe Tracz demonstrates for a second time that he can put difficult material on the stage. While Ryan Rumery’s overly loud sound design will turn off older theatergoers who are not more chill, those in the swing of things will have a memorable evening in the musical theater. [more]

Heist!

August 23, 2018

What’s missing from the nondescript music is originality, soul or spirit, and the same can be said about the book. Under the guidance of director James Will McBride, the cast, however, features some strong performances. In addition to Bober, Irion, and Sabulis, these include especially the red-haired Claire Leyden as Cynthia--with a strong, soprano, operatic voice-- and alto Blair Medina as Patricia, who plays the “Femme Fatale” in Three Card Monte. [more]

Neurosis

August 23, 2018

The clever invention is that each of them has a best friend who only they can see and hear: Neurosis (Brennan Caldwell) is Frank’s best buddy, a more cautious, nervous version of Frank, and Neurosalina (Morgan Weed) is Abby’s neurosis, a mean girl who Abby can’t get out of her head. Both of them need help but are not getting it from their neuroses who are always giving them bad advice and are stopping them from moving on. The show is bookended by musical advice from Samantha (Lacretta), a therapist, who takes on the task of freeing Frank from his problems: his overbearing Jewish mother Geri (Susan J. Jacks), his “underbearing” father Kenny (Joel Blum), his low self-esteem, and his lack of poise around women. [more]

R.R.R.E.D.

August 20, 2018

Spirited, tuneful and fabulously performed but lacking a strong plot, the silly "R.R.R.E.D." might have made for a lively hour-long cabaret show. However, as a full-length musical, it’s a tiresome experience. The exuberant Hee Haw-style opening number has the two principal performers disguised as hillbillies in a garden. [more]

Twelfth Night 2018 (Free Shakespeare in the Park & Public Works)

August 10, 2018

Shaina Taub’s joyful and sunny updated musical version of Shakespeare’s comedy, "Twelfth Night," is back in a full production courtesy of Free Shakespeare in the Park and Public Works which premiered an earlier production for four performances during Labor Day Weekend 2016. This slightly trimmed and tightened version is even more entertaining and the witty contemporary lyrics make this fun for young and old, as well as Shakespeare veterans and novices. [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]

Comfort Women: A New Musical

July 30, 2018

In telling the rest of this shattering story, the creators of Comfort Women, inexplicably, rely heavily on musical theater conventions that result in wrongheaded, if not downright offensive, choices. The most cringeworthy is the choreographed sequence of a Korean woman being gang raped by Japanese soldiers. At some point, in their effort to visualize this atrocity, director Dimo Hyun Jun Kim and choreographer Natanal Hyun Kim should have realized that they were, in fact, trivializing it. [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]

Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope

July 28, 2018

This plotless, mostly sung-through exhibition conveys the tumultuous 20th century urban African-American experience through Micki Grant’s dazzling score for which she wrote both the music and lyrics. “Universe in Mourning,” “Harlem Streets,” “Ghetto Life” and “Billie Holiday Blues” are some of the titles. [more]

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]
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