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Matthew Murphy

Matthew Murphy is a New York City-based photographer specializing in theatre and dance. http://www.murphymade.com

Spain

December 13, 2023

Until now it has been believed that the 1937 Joris Ivens-Ernest Hemingway documentary "The Spanish Earth" was paid for by a corporation called Contemporary Historians sponsored by some of the most famous liberal writers of the time: playwright Lillian Hellman, mystery writer Dashiell Hammett, poet, screenwriter and essayist Dorothy Parker and her husband Alan Campbell, poet Archibald MacLeish, novelists John Dos Passos and Hemingway. However, in "Spain," contemporary playwright Jen Silverman has another idea: what if this famously propaganda film was financed by the KGB and that filmmaker Ivens and his girlfriend/editor Helen van Dongen were agents for KGB operatives in New York? [more]

Spamalot

November 20, 2023

Still, whatever faint accommodations he grants it, for Idle, structure is the enemy of joy, which every aspect of "Spamalot" is relentlessly intent on delivering, not only from a few well-performed and well-known old Monty Python bits (the Knights Who Say "Ni!"; the French Taunter; the Black Knight) but also through amusing allusions to classic Broadway musicals that Aaron Sorkin was never given the chance to ruin. To be sure, it is fan service on a couple fronts, forming a Venn Diagram highlighting anyone who adores, for example, how Idle's brainy, irreverent silliness transforms Stephen Sondheim's song "Another Hundred People" from "Company" into a running plague count. It takes incredibly varied abilities to appealingly belt out Sondheim while landing that joke, which Ethan Slater, as the dejected Prince Herbert, does impressively and without remotely shortchanging either responsibility. [more]

Jaja’s African Hair Braiding

October 10, 2023

"Jaja" is quite different from Bioh's other plays in that it is also very revealing about life in NYC for African immigrants. Directed by Whitney White who has piloted several major new Black plays in recent years, the play is funny, poignant and illustrative. The excellent and compelling cast of 11 includes six fine actors making their Broadway debuts. David Zinn’s detailed hair salon puts every inch of Jada’s Harlem African Hair Braiding parlor on stage down to the last braid and bobby pin. [more]

The Shark Is Broken

August 17, 2023

As for what's in a name, yes, Ian Shaw is Robert's son, returning the life-giving favor not just through his words but also bodily, portraying his father in "The Shark Is Broken" with a candid empathy (and astonishing physical resemblance) that highlights the elder Shaw's strengths while giving context to his weaknesses, too. Because of ongoing technical difficulties with Spielberg's monstrous mechanical fish, known as Bruce, there was protracted downtime during the filming of "Jaws," which the play fills with imagined conversations between Robert and his co-stars Richard Dreyfuss (Alex Brightman) and Roy Scheider (Colin Donnell). Despite set designer Duncan Henderson's remarkable recreation of the Orca, the movie's barely seaworthy boat, hardcore Jaws fans might feel as if they've been bait-and-switched, since, in the final tally, they only get one early image of a not-so-ominous shark fin to satiate their thrill-and-chill-seeking expectations. In keeping with what's on the marquee, it quickly malfunctions, sinking into video designer Nina Dunn (for PixelLux)'s vast ocean backdrop, never to be seen again. [more]

Back to the Future: The Musical

August 16, 2023

"Back to the Future: The Musical," the time travel adventure, joins a long line of problematic screen to stage musicalizations which do not improve on the originals in any way. Joining the list that includes in recent memory "Pretty Woman," "King Kong," "Tootsie," "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Almost Famous," Back to the Future, using one of the original movie’s co-writers (Bob Gale without Robert Zemeckis), attempts to transplant the film in toto to the stage of the Winter Garden Theatre without adding anything new to the mix other than having the characters sing and dance. If theater is meant to surprise us, then like the stage version of "Almost Famous," "Back to the Future" slavishly follows its source material so that we feel like we have seen it all before – and better. [more]

Here Lies Love

August 2, 2023

"Here Lies Love" unreels like an MTV music video with the emotional content lost in the technique.  The real issue of this musical is that it’s impossible to feel anything for the lead characters, with the possible exception of Estrella.  They are moved about the extraordinarily gimmicky set like chess pieces with Imelda checkmating everybody.  Jacobs evinces the boldness of Imelda, the script limiting her ability to show any tenderness or vulnerability.  Llana's Ferdinand is written pretty much as a stolid symbol, hardly human at all. [more]

Once Upon a One More Time

July 3, 2023

The only problem with Hartmere’s plot is that it remains undeveloped. None of the princesses get to read Friedan's book (there is initially only one copy) and they take it on faith that it offers them alternatives. The plot goes off on a series of tangents (Prince Charming’s assistant Prince Erudite the Celibate reveals that he is gay when he meets Snow White’s assistant Clumsy, the Cinderella’s Stepmother attempts to get the Narrator to choose one of her daughters for Prince Charming after Cinderella’s defection) but these narratives turn out as you would expect with no surprises. As staged by director/choreographer team Keene & Mari Madrid, whose credits up until now are mainly in film and music video, (creative consultant: British director: David Leveaux), the many production numbers look like aerobics for a rock video which may please Spears fans but look incongruous in a Broadway musical based on 18th and 19th century stories. Spears’ fans will be pleased that the show includes eight of her top ten hits: “Oops!... I Did It Again,” “Baby One More Time,” “Gimme More,” “Toxic,” “Circus,” “Lucky,” “Work Bitch,” and “Stronger,” almost all with lyrics tweaked by Hartmere to fit a story of princes and princesses. [more]

On The Town with Chip Deffaa: At “New York, New York,” “Some Like It Hot,” and Seth Sikes & Nicholas King’s Nightclub Act

May 14, 2023

In the last few weeks I feel like I’ve been stepping back in time—in a nice way.   I’ve enjoyed seeing the new Broadway musicals "New York, New York" (set in 1946-47) and (with some definite reservations, which I’ll get to shortly,) "Some Like It Hot" (set in 1933).  And although the current nightclub act of  Seth Sikes and Nicolas King is set in the present, most of the Great America Songbook numbers that they sing were written long before they were born; and they put those numbers across with  terrific razzle-dazzle showmanship—the kind you always hope to see in clubs but all-too-rarely do. [more]

Bad Cinderella

March 29, 2023

The book of "Bad Cinderella" plays like a series of unfunny "Saturday Night Live" sketches. Laurence Connor (who also directed the earlier London production) has given the show no particular style and each scene seems to be in another genre. The show can’t decide if it is taking place now - with its references to rock band Guns N’ Roses (parodied in the song “Buns ‘n’ Roses”),its use of both diversity and inclusion, a female Vicar, its erotic baker, reference to a “spare” prince, and its shirtless muscle hunks seen in the palace gym – or the Middle Ages. [more]

Some Like It Hot

December 19, 2022

Matthew López & Amber Ruffin (book) and Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman (music and lyrics) have transformed the written-for-laughs film into a joyous musical, keeping much of the sharp wit of the original.  Most importantly, they added heart and even a surprisingly contemporary spin or two, buoyed by the brilliance of Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography (although all those knee slides made me worry for the talented dancers’ health!) [more]

KPOP

December 5, 2022

Adopting the hokey framing device of a concert documentary, Kim turns the impending U.S. debut of a South Korean entertainment company's three hottest acts into a triptych of rigorously gendered plots. While attempting to capture all the glitz, glamor, and artistry, the American documentarian (Aubie Merrylees) also relentlessly stirs the pot to heighten any behind-the-scenes discord for the cameras, which doesn't make much sense since his paycheck is signed by Ruby (Jully Lee), the record label's iron-fisted founder and driving force, who obviously wants a glorified promotional video, not an investigative report. But to ascribe dramaturgical logic to the situation is to entirely miss the point. Aided by Peter Nigrini's voyeuristic projections of backstage squabbling, the objective is not truth but, rather, to establish the type of assiduously rendered false intimacy fans perceive as truth. [more]

& Juliet

November 30, 2022

The cast is a combination of New York stage favorites (Stark Sands, "Kinky Boots," and Betsy Wolfe, "Waitress," "Falsettos" and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"), new faces (Lorna Courtney, Ben Jackson Walker, Justin David Sullivan) and older veterans (opera baritone Paolo Szot and London stage star Melanie La Barrie making her Broadway debut.) The clever book is by writer David West Read previously seen in New York with "The Performers" and "The Dream of the Burning Boy" as well as the long running television series Schitt’s Creek. The show seems to have been influenced by "Something Rotten"(parody of Elizabethan times), "Six "(its updated 16th century costumes by Paloma Young), "Head Over Heels" (reboot of a classic tale wedded to a pop-rock score) and "Moulin Rouge" (the over-the-top staging by director Luke Sheppard and choreographer Jennifer Weber) – but is actually more fun than all of those shows. At times it resembles "Saturday Night Live" skits but knows enough to keep them short and not let any of them go on too long before introducing the next complication. [more]

Almost Famous

November 15, 2022

What Crowe has done in writing his own book for the new show is recreate almost exactly every scene in the movie starting from the time when 15-year-old hero William Miller meets rock critic Lester Bangs, including the bus and plane sequences. The best lines in the stage version are recognizable from the film and nothing of equal stature has been added to the version now on stage at the Bernard J. Jacobs Theatre. The new songs credited to composer Tom Kitt with lyrics by Crowe and Kitt add little to the work as they do not forward the story. A good many of the iconic songs from the film make their appearance but as staged by director Jeremy Herrin and choreographer Sarah O’Gleby they are the least effective numbers in the show. [more]

Kinky Boots

September 1, 2022

Several years after vacating its Broadway home, "Kinky Boots" has settled in to a cozier off-Broadway venue, Stage 42, at a presumed discount for theatergoers, albeit with a much smaller orchestra and actors whose talents far exceed their name recognition (and no mask mandates, which might be a dealer breaker for some). Also returning is director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell who gives the resized production the same energy as the original, nurturing a buoyant vibe that, as before, underscores the show's positive messages about celebrating difference, particularly as it relates to hoary conceptions of masculinity. But, when everything is said and sung, Fierstein and Lauper's joyously uplifting, but shallow, efforts are only memorable for meaning well. That's not nothing, especially these days, but the show could have been so much more. [more]

Into the Woods

July 20, 2022

Patina Miller as The Witch in a scene from the New York City Center Encores! Production of “Into [more]

Mr. Saturday Night

May 6, 2022

Anyone else may find this decent show to be a tired affair which just about sustains its two-and-half-hour running time. The memory-piece book by Crystal, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel is based on their screenplay which ranges from the 1950’s to the 1990’s. It intends to be a loving tribute to a bygone show business era and fitfully succeeds at that. The schmaltz-laden dramatic writing never really rises above the rudimentary, rendering the events and conflicts with patness and clichés. Still, it offers choice roles that are marvelously performed by the other cast members. [more]

Funny Girl

April 29, 2022

Beanie Feldstein’s clunky rendition of “I'm the Greatest Star” crystalizes the absurdist dimension of this off-kilter first Broadway revival of the 1964 musical, "Funny Girl." With her nasal, often muffled singing, oddly emphatic line readings and smug mugging, in no way does she suggest a great star, yet this nearly three-hour show is centered around her. It instantly deflates with her wan introductory “Hello, gorgeous.” She does exhibit idiosyncratic pluck and stamina throughout. [more]

MJ

February 10, 2022

Wheeldon and Pulitzer Award-winning playwright Lynn Nottage make every effort to hide the fact that MJ is a jukebox musical, despite the fact that the first notes of every song elicited loud shouts and applause (part of the reason the show runs two and a half hours). Nottage has invented a plodding framework for the show.  It is 1992 in Los Angeles. TV reporter, Rachel (a down-to-earth Whitney Bashor who acts as the play’s Greek chorus) and her hyperactive assistant, Alejandro (a charming Gabriel Ruiz) corral a reluctant Jackson to have his rehearsals for his huge upcoming 'Dangerous" tour documented. [more]

Prayer for the French Republic

February 8, 2022

Joshua Harmon’s latest play, the dense, untidy, brilliant and timely Prayer for the French Republic, is his most ambitious, epical play covering five generations of one French Jewish family with relatives in America as they negotiate the troubled landscape in a time when Marine Le Pen, president of the National Front, an anti-Semitic, xenophobic and Islamophobic organization, may win the election for president of France.  Marcelle and Charles have to consider if France is still safe for their family which includes 28-year-old daughter Elodie and if not where they should go. If you think none of this has anything to do with you, Marine Le Pen is currently running for President of France once again and the Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center Stage I has a husky guard on watch throughout the performance in Manhattan – that is the world we live in. The play also contains the most dramatic scenes to be played on a New York stage in many years. David Cromer’s production is riveting in its intensity and as a play of ideas it is very accessible even to those who have not been following recent current events. [more]

Skeleton Crew

January 29, 2022

Set in the breakroom of a stamping plant in 2008, Ms. Morisseau achieves a high level of dramatic writing with this well observed exploration of Black working-class life. Each of the short scenes is perfectly crafted, imparting exposition, plot points and narrative momentum. Morisseau also has created four vivid, appealing and humane characters who speak her authentically rich dialogue and who are majestically performed. [more]

Company

December 18, 2021

This theatrical genius, responsible for the Tony Award winning plays "War Horse," "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" and the most recent revival of "Angels in America," knew that this 1970 musical comedy about a man about to turn 35 and having all his coupled friends trying to marry him off would seem dated in 2018 when she conceived of this version in London, in which the gender of the characters are reversed. With the help of another genius, composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim who rejiggered his wise and witty lyrics, Elliott has made this old show by bookwriter George Furth seem spanking new as if we had never seen it before even though this is the fourth New York revival. [more]

Diana, The Musical

November 22, 2021

If you are a Princess Diana completist, "Diana: The Musical" will satisfy your needs along with the deeper Spencer and The Queen and all the innumerable documentaries about this ill-fated fairy princess.  Those interested in delving deeper into the Princess Diana mystique will be disappointed with this superficial, but somehow entertaining, musical. [more]

Morning Sun

November 12, 2021

In a departure for him, the three actresses play all of the characters, both female and male, and are listed in the program simply as 1, 2 and 3. While the play feels undramatic and has no high points it does put the entire 67 years of the life of its heroine Charlotte (Charley) McBride played by Falco center stage. This low-key form seems to be the point for Stephens: life is a series of moments, like beads on a string, rather than big explosions or confrontations. With Brown playing her mother Claudette and Marin playing her daughter Tessa, both actresses also take turns narrating and playing other people in Charley’s life: her father Harold, her best friend Casey, her lover Brian, her husband Edward, her Uncle Stanley. Not only is the drama low-key, the characters play ordinary people, a saleswoman at Macy’s, a receptionist at St. Vincent, a janitor at the YMCA, the sort of people one had met or can identify with, unpretentious and unassuming: what most of the world is made up of. [more]

New York City Center’s 2021 Fall for Dance Festival: Programs 1 and 2

October 19, 2021

The final work on Program 1 was its finest.  A.I.M. By Kyle Abraham presented its director’s “Our Indigo: If We Were a Love Song,” a deeply moving paean to the darker meanings of love.  It was choreographed to Nina Simone’s glorious renditions of six songs in which she wrapped her moving contralto around the lyrics of “Don’t Explain,” “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” and “Little Girl Blue.” The opening moments found the seven-member cast gathered in a dramatically lit upstage corner—moody lighting designed by Dan Scully—bending and reaching, dispersing only to return to their sculptural starting image. [more]

Ephrat Asherie Dance: “Odeon”

April 16, 2021

Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie, the artistic director of the effervescent Ephrat Asherie Dance (EAD) has absorbed the disciplines of a number of dance forms:  hip-hop, breaking, Latin-American and Vogue.  She skillfully and wittily scanned all of these into Odeon, a 105-minute long work that showed off her six member troupe. They—including Asherie—danced with a verve, if not native authenticity, that matched the Brazilian-tinged score by Ernesto Nazareth, here interpreted by an on stage four-member band under the musical direction of Ehud Asherie. [more]

Girl from the North Country (Broadway)

March 19, 2020

Set in a dark time, "Girl from the North Country" creates a community on stage as do the best plays and musicals. Its tale of lost souls attempting to keep their heads above water is universal in both its message and its approach. Conor McPherson has never written so accessible a play before for Americans, and Bob Dylan’s songs have never sounded so poignant. Girl from the North Country is both unforgettable and not to be missed. [more]

My Name Is Lucy Barton

January 28, 2020

Laura Linney is never one to avoid a challenge. When she last appeared at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre she was alternating in the roles of “Regina” and “Birdie” in the revival of Lillian Hellman’s "The Little Foxes" and won a Tony Award for Best Actress for her efforts.  Now she is back in an adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s novel "My Name is Lucy Barton" where she plays both the title character and her mother and is the only performer on stage. Directed as she was in the London production by Richard Eyre, she beautifully captures the tone and voice of Strout’s heroine. [more]

Jagged Little Pill

December 15, 2019

Given the personal nature of Morissette's artistic output, it might be surprising to learn that the Broadway version of Jagged Little Pill doesn't take the easy biographical route for its book, mimicking, say, the mega-popular "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical," whose subtitle pretty much says it all. Instead, Morissette's album (Glen Ballard co-wrote the music) and a few of her other songs support an entirely original story from theater-novice Diablo Cody, whose Oscar-winning screenplay for "Juno" was funny, affecting, and decidedly superficial. This same descriptive mixed bag also holds true for Jagged Little Pill, which rises above typical jukebox musical fare, but not as much as it could have, largely because Cody is interested in hot-button issues, not characters. [more]

The Wrong Man

October 10, 2019

"The Wrong Man" is a new musical by multi-platinum songwriter Ross Golan with "Hamilton"’s director Thomas Kail. Like "Hamilton," it began as a concept album and grew into a stage performance. Unlike Hamilton‘s epic sweep of history, this subject is contemporary and has a narrower focus, following the fortunes of one man, Duran, who is down on his luck in Reno, Nevada. The intimate setting of The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space’s Newman Mills Theater is a good place to show off the production. [more]

Derren Brown: Secret on Broadway

September 20, 2019

The shaven-headed, athletic and charismatic Derren Brown is a well-known personality in the United Kingdom due to his award-winning theatrical and television presentations. With his resounding accented voice, engaging showmanship and mystical talents, he commands the stage while appearing in a sleek dark suit, a flowing mystical robe and evening clothes. Mr. Brown discloses that he struggled with his homosexuality before coming out at the age of 31.  This revelation enhances his witty persona, along with other personal data imparted along the way. [more]

Broadway Bounty Hunter

August 7, 2019

Composer-lyricist Joe Inconis’ follow up to his teen favorite, "Be More Chill," is not only a showcase for musical comedy actress Annie Golden but a tribute to the Blaxploitation and Martial Arts movies of the 1970’s and 1980’s. While "Broadway Bounty Hunter" is very entertaining, it might have been a better show if had not been so anxious to not be a parody or a satire. Written by Iconis and longtime collaborators Lance Rubin and Jason Sweettooth Williams, energetic cast, fully attuned with their concept has been directed and choreographed with fierce energy by Jennifer Werner who has previous created the dances for five of Iconis’ last six shows. [more]

Rock of Ages

July 31, 2019

"Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard in a smashing live rendition accompanies a lusty production number at a seedy Los Angeles strip club with scantily clad pole dancers and creepy patrons. It’s a splashy set piece in this uproarious Off-Broadway revival commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Broadway hit "Rock of Ages. " It’s also notable because previously Def Leppard wouldn’t allow their songs to be included in this 1980’s hit singles jukebox musical. “Rock of Ages” in a recorded version is heard after the show ends and the audience leaves. [more]

Beetlejuice

May 22, 2019

Not all cult movies need to be made into musicals, particularly those that are dependent on special effects which the cinema does better than the stage. This is demonstrated by the new Broadway musical based on "Beetlejuice," the Tim Burton horror-comedy-fantasy. This theme park-type show is visually a spectacle with a set that does all sort of tricks and changes, but as the adage goes, you can’t go home singing the scenery. And the score by Australian composer/performer Eddie Perfect (whose only other American score has been "King Kong the Musical") is eminently forgettable. In the title role, Alex Brightman, who was charismatic in a similar role in "The School of Rock," is so over-the top that he becomes tiresome very quickly. To paraphrase Mae West, too much of a good thing is not wonderful. [more]
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