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Articles by Joel Benjamin

About Joel Benjamin (562 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.

Titanic

June 18, 2024

The tapestry Stone weaves with his multitude of characters—too many to mention here—is always fascinating in its subtle details.  Each person stands on his or her own helped by superb performances by the entire cast under the skilled direction of Anne Kauffman ("Mary Jane" and "The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window").  Under her care they all sing magnificently helped by guest music director Rob Berman’s sensitive handling of the Yeston score, directing the large Encores! Orchestra to bring out all the facets of the almost operatic music. [more]

Party Clown of the Rich and Famous & The Hungry Mind Buffet

June 7, 2024

There’s so much fascinating material in "Party Clown of the Rich and Famous" and its companion compendium of four short works, "The Hungry Mind Buffet" that it pains me that the works aren’t presented with classier production values, unfortunately a reality in cash-strapped Off-Broadway presentations.  Even so, the evening offers much to savor. [more]

Christopher Caswell: Listen to My Heart

May 21, 2024

Christopher Caswell: "Listen to My Heart" took the audience into his confidence as he opened up about his personal life: friends, loves, children and, of course, show business.  His show had the intimacy of being in Caswell’s living room in the guise of the Laurie Beechman Theatre, just off the theater district. Lean, youthful and handsome, Caswell—who admits to being sixty-plus—opened with a stroll through the audience singing the title song, which, after many personal revelations, also ended the show, taking on a different meaning. [more]

Bettye and the Jockettes Spinning Records at the Holiday Inn

May 15, 2024

Christie Perfetti Williams’ genial new play "Bettye and the Jockettes Spinning Records at the Holiday Inn" transports the audience back to the moment Elvis Presley became an international star via his appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in July 1956. Working at the tiny all-female Memphis radio station, WHER, tucked off the lobby of a Holiday Inn, Bettye (Heather E. Cunningham) is devoted to spinning jazz records and does the occasional interview.  She is not a fan of Presley’s music but is given the assignment of interviewing him, a task made all the more important for the station now that Presley’s career is about to zoom into the stratosphere. [more]

The Heart of Rock and Roll

May 13, 2024

"The Heart of Rock and Roll" at the James Earl Jones Theatre is one of the more pleasant entries in the jukebox musical derby.  Using the musical catalog of Huey Lewis and the News, Tyler Mitchell and Jonathan A. Abrams, (book by Abrams), have fashioned an amusing story of a working class Joe who is torn between his love of rock music and his need to make a living in business.  Heart began its Broadway-bound journey in 2018 at the Old Globe in San Diego, but is set firmly in the 1980’s. [more]

Mother Play, A Play in Five Evictions

May 9, 2024

"Mother Play," though based on Vogel’s own life, is her most schematic, more an outline barely fleshed out with lots of details rather than the intense emotional revelations of her earlier works such as "How I Learned to Drive" and "Indecent." The chronological span of the play precludes anything but a quick portrayal of a procession of life-changing events in the Herman family and the rest of the world.  Only Martha comes close to revealing her inner tumult at being torn between her mother and her brother.  AIDS and other markers of the fast-moving decades are served up too quickly and with foregone conclusions in weak attempts to pluck the audience’s heart strings. [more]

Mary Jane

May 5, 2024

The play is an expression of the quiet whirlwind within Mary Jane’s soul, exquisitely expressed by the warm McAdams, surrounded by the boundless support of the others. Director Anne Kauffman masterfully allows the play to express vast emotions in the most subtle ways.  What might have been a tearjerker is so much more, a chance to completely belong in this character’s mind and heart. [more]

Suffs

May 3, 2024

The transfer to Broadway has brilliantly expanded the show.  The new production designed by Riccardo Hernández (scenery), Paul Tazewell (costumes), Lap Chi Chu (lighting) and Charles G. LaPointe (wigs & hair) brings Taub’s script to vivid life, much better than the more didactic and spare Public Theater rendering.  These artists put Taub’s script into historical context making the battle all the more vibrant. The new version also has rethought the casting, reshuffled and improved the songs and, more importantly, is more focused and effective in telling about the conflicts—internal and external—that plagued the suffrage movement.  These included dissonance between Catt and Paul; the thorn-in-the-movement’s side of the Black contingent led by the brilliant Ida B. Wells (a charismatic Nikki M. James); and the far left, Socialist ideals of the hothead Ruza Wenclawska (Kim Blanck, brilliantly avoiding caricature). [more]

Stereophonic

April 27, 2024

David Adjmi’s "Stereophonic" at the Golden Theatre, a transfer under the auspices of Playwrights Horizons, is a minutely detailed, almost minute-by-minute recreation of a recording session by a rock band, purportedly based on Fleetwood Mac’s creation of its epic album "Rumours" in 1976.  (Adjmi has denied that this was his inspiration, claiming that the show has an amalgam of sources.) [more]

Dali’s Dream

April 13, 2024

The four patients’ stories occupy the bulk of "Dali’s Dream" in an uneven stream of oddball activities which divert the plot from the more important consideration of the Freud/Dali interaction.  Their behavior is whimsical at best, arbitrary at worst. The play becomes an awkward phantasmagoria of the four patients’ crippling neuroses, hiding the fact that the reason for the play, its important focus, the meeting of two major minds of the twentieth century, becomes secondary, not to mention swelling the play’s running time.  Their discussions are never fully realized, but get as far as Dali’s admission that he could remember being in his mother’s womb, more a boast than a revelation. [more]

Oh, Mary!

April 9, 2024

No one should be sacrosanct or above satirical treatment, not even our heroes.  Everyone has feet of clay.  Cole Escola in their huge hit "Oh, Mary!" at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Greenwich Village certainly believes this.  Their over-the-top, irreverent take on Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth is so scurrilously sexual that it is difficult to avoid guffawing at their magnificent awfulness helped by Escola’s constant silly shtick and blatant playing to the audience, all of whom seemed to be having fun. [more]

Travels

April 5, 2024

"Travels" at Ars Nova isn’t just a story of the many places James Harrison Monaco has been.  That’s part of it, the most superficial part. "Travels" is far more:  a deep look at the people in his life, two in particular, whose fascinating and moving stories emerge from a torrent of music, videos, lights and words.  In eight songs/scenes a very personal saga unravels until a chilling coda. On the tiny Ars Nova stage, a console contains the control center of the production.  Constantly moving images give the illusion of flying into a vortex, soon replaced by more informative images that illustrate the stories told by Monaco and his very talented compatriots: El Beh, Ashley De La Rosa, Mehry Eslaminia and John Murchison. [more]

Stalker

April 2, 2024

Peter Brynolf and Jonas Ljung, two coolly elegant Swedes—who wrote the show with Edward Af Sillén (also the show’s director)—perform one mind-boggling feat after another, fed by information culled from the audience.  The two performers also speak of their own lives, although why they have to describe themselves as “two heterosexuals” is questionable. [more]

Orson’s Shadow

March 29, 2024

For those interested in both theatrical history and the lives of our former artistic heroes, Pendleton doesn’t disappoint, even if he exaggerates and manipulates the facts a bit.  He does better with Welles and Olivier, both played smartly and quirkily, than he does with Taff’s almost invisible Plowright and Menna’s ghostly, but glamorous Leigh.  Hamilton’s Tynan is more didactic than dramatic, but he looks terrific and keeps the show rolling along. Listening to these giants kvetch and spew is fascinating and strangely satisfying. [more]

The Look of Love (Mark Morris Dance Group)

March 27, 2024

"The Look of Love" was filled with Morris’ least complex choreography, relying on repetition, walking, running and soft leg extensions along with simple arm gestures.  Considering the sophistication and elegance of Iverson’s arrangements for the MMDG Music Ensemble, Morris, whose musicianship is his best feature, clearly decided to go for the obvious and easily digestible.  Nothing wrong with this approach, but it made "The Look of Love" appear less substantial than it really was. [more]

Dongpo: Life in Poems

March 25, 2024

Dongpo’s travels through life is set forth in the lovely poems—projected in Chinese script and in English—full of observations of nature, sad inner monologues and thoughts intimating the end of a long life. They helped set the tone of "Life in Poems," including some humorous trips to the twenty-first century wittily added to the next-to-the-last act:  dancers on skateboards, scooters and other unabashedly modern modes. Divided into six short acts, each defined by a Dongpo poem projected onto several large scrims, the ballet slowly builds to an eye-popping full cast finale. [more]

Doubt: A Parable

March 21, 2024

In this Roundabout/Scott Ellis production, Amy Ryan’s Sister Aloysius (stepping in for the originally cast Tyne Daly) comes across as less absolute in her suspicions while Liev Schreiber’s Flynn is less wavering than was the more nervous O’Byrne.  Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that, unlike the original casting, Schreiber is physically more imposing than Ryan making her seem more like a small creature attempting to take down much larger prey. The current production, brilliantly and realistically designed by David Rockwell and costumed by Linda Cho, has a more human feel than the original which, unfortunately, makes the play’s last scene less effective.  The war Sister Aloysius imposes on her church and school becomes more a battle of old against new and the lack of power of nuns versus the entitled males of the Catholic Church. [more]

Fair Winds and Winds of War

March 17, 2024

Kahn has a good ear for the subtleties of each character and the period.  However, "Fair Winds" doesn’t handle all the major themes smoothly and the use of the narrator sometimes feels like a way to make up for her storytelling shortcomings, although Maisonett is an accomplished enough actor to make it work. [more]

Pontus Lidberg: “On the Nature of Rabbits”

March 8, 2024

How the metaphor of rabbits fit into this was puzzling, yet the dreamlike (nightmarish?) rabbit imagery was the strongest visual idea and pervaded the work, from a toy stuffed bunny to grotesque rabbit masks the dancers wore throughout the show.  Perhaps the stuffed bunny was akin to the madeleine which Proust tasted, leading to a river of memories and Á la Recherche du Temps Perdu, the rabbit inducing Lidberg to ponder his childhood? [more]

The Maid & The Mesmerizer

March 6, 2024

Lynn’s dialogue is astute and subtle, following the heartbeat of this strange, but understandable couple lifting it out of soapiness and melodrama.  She has written a very modern drama. ... Jenn Susi’s direction helps transform conversations into a real one-act play with natural rhythms and a satisfying ending. [more]

A Sign of the Times

March 3, 2024

This York Theatre Company production at the New World Stages, following a presentation at Goodspeed Musicals in 2016, shoehorns these songs into a book by Lindsey Hope Pearlman from a story created by Richard J. Robin. It has an ambitious plot that glibly takes on a number of themes roiling through the turbulent Sixties:  women’s lib, civil rights, the war in Vietnam, the sexual revolution, Andy Warhol, and even a premature touch of gay liberation. [more]

This is not a time of peace

February 29, 2024

"This is not a time of peace" has a stream of consciousness feel effectively handled by the director Jerry Heymann. There is never any confusion about who is who and what they represent despite overlapping dialogue and quick segues from one era to the other. It is Cohn’s performance as Alina that is the strong spine of the play.  She opens and closes the play going from a matter-of-fact opening monologue to an impassioned closing statement, leaving the audience to empathize with her and comprehend all the frustrations she experiences. [more]

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]

Twyla Tharp Dance: Winter Season 2024

February 20, 2024

Like her masterful Sinatra solo for Mikhail Baryshnikov, “Brel” takes Cornejo from a strolling meditating figure (“Quand On N’A Que l’Amour”) to an anguished lover (“Ne Me Quitte Pas”).  Cornejo twists and thrashes until the song “Amsterdam” had him gliding all over the stage.  The mood rises through “Les Marquises” and “Marieke,” matching Brel’s penchant for crescendo, leading Cornejo into jags of runs, leaps, turns and wilder gestures. Although not as immediate a success as her other ballets to songs, “Brel” will soon be a favorite of solo danseurs all over the ballet world. [more]

White Wave: 2024 SoloDuo Dance Festival

February 16, 2024

The host company, WHITE WAVE Young Soon Kim Dance Company ended the short, well-run program with the longest work, the three-part “Eternal NOW.”  It also had the most complex costumes, geometrically shaped and brightly-colored two-part outfits designed by Sarah Cubbage. Putting her seven dancers through their modern dance paces, Kim displayed skill at handling the cast, pitting soloist against groups and each other as they moved to an alternately slow and fast score by Marco Cappelli.   She is someone the other other dancemakers on this lineup could look up to. [more]

The Good Soldier Švejk and His Fortunes in the First World War

February 8, 2024

The Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT) is presenting “an innovative re-interpretation of a classic, combining live performances with puppets” at the resourceful Theater for the New City in the East Village. "The Good Soldier Švejk and His Fortunes in the First World War" is a classic journey into a satirical, picaresque anti-war message first revealed in the novel by Jaroslav Hašek published in several volumes in the early twenties. It is one of the most translated books by a Czech writer.  Hašek served in World War I and his experiences fueled his sardonically funny novel. Švejk was adapted for stage productions soon after by such theater luminaries as Erwin Piscator and Bertolt Brecht.  The new, loose-legged adaptation at TNC is by Vít Hořejš who also directed this production. [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]

Compagnie Hervé KOUBI: “Sol Invictus”

January 25, 2024

This hotbed of virtuosity, indeed, made his troupe one gorgeous community of physically exuberant and fearless citizens.  Whether he communicated any deeper existential or human truths probably differs with each viewer’s sensibility, but watching these fine physical specimens flip, fly, roll and balance on their heads had its vicarious thrills, perhaps dimmed with the constant repetition of feats of athletic prowess to the point of exhaustion.  Perhaps sensing this, Koubi doubled down and ended the work with dancers being tossed high and caught at the last moment, an adrenaline rush if there ever was one. [more]

Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE: Winter 2023-24 Season

January 19, 2024

Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE, the Brooklyn-based dance company founded in 1985 is back at the Joyce Theater presenting two works by Brown showing off the exuberance, sensuality and technical brilliance of its eight dancers plus one guest artist. “Walking Out the Dark” (2001) was the more substantial work.  Using only four dancers—until the very end when company associate artistic director Arcell Cabuag performed a peculiarly out-of-place solo—Brown began in a quietly intense mood, gradually lightening up by the end of this uneven, but well-meaning 50-minute work. [more]

Prayer for the French Republic

January 15, 2024

Harmon meticulously fuses the domestic ups and downs of this bright, well-educated extended family with the overwhelming and unavoidable social upheavals that surround them whether it’s the Nazi persecutions or the rise in anti-Jewish violence and rhetoric in contemporary France.   Their story is epic, but intimate. David Cromer, the director, isn’t afraid to keep "Prayer" flowing in a deliberate, unhurried pace, or pausing at times letting the play breathe.  He makes the epic quite human scale. "Prayer for the French Republic" is monumental, yet human scaled, addressing a resurgent scourge with intelligence and warmth. [more]

Momix: Fall 2023 Season

December 29, 2023

How the ten dancers of Momix create so many beautiful and mysterious images is a credit to artistic director Moses Pendleton and his associate Cynthia Quinn who, along with the dancers, create superb eye candy illusions.  In fact, the performers of Momix are billed as dancer-illusionists. This season at the company’s New York headquarters, the Joyce Theater, sadly, there was only one new work, “Floating.”  Instead, the program, entitled “Viva Momix,” consisted of sixteen oldies-but-goodies all staged with Momix’s signature expertise. [more]

The Gospel According to Chaim

December 29, 2023

There are few issues that raise the ire of the religious as a member changing religions.  Apostate is the mildest term used for such a person. Mikhl Yashinsky’s "The Gospel According to Chaim" at Theater for the New City tells of such a person, the eponymous Chaim Einspruch, played with beatific authority by the author, himself.  This is a true story and a rarity: a contemporary play written in Yiddish. (Supertitle translation is provided.) Chaim Einspruch wrote the first Yiddish translation of the New Testament, a shanda of the highest order since this acknowledges the existence of Jesus as “the Savior.” [more]

Rachel Bloom: Death, Let Me Do My Show

December 22, 2023

Dressed in a glittery, silver suit—costumes by Kristin Isola—Bloom immediately takes control of an audience who already admire her from her standup comedy and her bitterly funny TV show, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" plus her solo tour of "What Am I Going to Do with My Life Life?" and, perhaps, from the recent iteration of this amusing musing of life and death and birth and Covid. Bloom ponders her pre-pandemic self and the trauma of the birth of her daughter who had a life-threatening condition.  Covid limited her visits to her baby in the NICU and caused the death of her close friend and writing partner Adam Schlesinger who, ironically, shared the NICU when it was partly converted to a Covid ward. [more]
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