Never Say No?

 

So apparently there was front row breast feeding at tonight's performance of The Fantasticks.

 

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Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2014 @ 11:34 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Serving Up Twangy Charm

 

New York is a city that constructs cathedrals to classical music, developed a neighborhood for showtunes and is liberally dotted with dives devoted to rock and jazz.

 

But country music? Gotham-based radio stations specializing the genre have rarely gained popularity (In 2013, WNSH-FM became the area's first country music station in 17 years.) and most locals would be hard-pressed to think of a venue that offers a steady diet of it.

 

Click here for my full review of Pump Boys and Dinettes.

 

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Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2014 @ 06:13 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Winning For Congeniality

 

I can't quite recall if Pageant was considered especially edgy or unconventional when it first trod upon Gotham boards in 1991. This was, after all, several seasons after La Cage aux Folles pushed musical comedy drag onto mainstream Broadway.

 

Twenty-three years later bookwriter/lyricists Frank Kelly and Bill Russell and composer Alvin Evans' gentle spoofing of beauty crowns and the women who compete for them is probably exactly what most 21st Century playgoers would expect to find when attending a drag show beauty pageant. The smarmy host, the campy jokes, the light sexual innuendo, the questionable displays of talent and, of course, the parade of well-sculpted males looking fabu and feminine in a parade evening gowns, swimsuits and sporty wear are all included.

 

Click here for my full review of Pageant.

 

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Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2014 @ 06:13 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Giving a Worthy Subject The Short Shrift

 

"Rape is rape," goes the recent motto, but for much of his new drama first-time playwright Robert Boswell asks the audience to consider if a rape has occurred when a lack of communication leaves two legal adults with completely different beliefs regarding the mutual consent of their sexual encounter.

 

Click here for my full review of The Long Shrift.

 

Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.

 

 

Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2014 @ 06:13 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


More Concert Than Musical Theatre

 

Not very far into Randy Newman's Faust, God complains to Lucifer how his "stupid old shuffle songs" sound "always the same."

 

It's a cute little joke at that point in the show but by the second act his word can be taken as gospel.

 

Click here for my full review of Faust.

 

Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.

 

Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2014 @ 06:12 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


World Cup

 

Wow, that's the first thing this summer that Audra McDonald didn't win.

 

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Posted on: Sunday, July 13, 2014 @ 06:39 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


A Brief Appreciation for John Dickinson

 

"My conduct, this day, I expect will give the finishing blow to my once too great, and my integrity considered now, too diminished popularity. It will be my lot to know that I had rather vote away the enjoyment of that dazzling display, that pleasing possession, than the blood and happiness of my countrymen—too fortunate, amidst their calamities, if I prove a truth known in Heaven, that I had rather they should hate me than that I should hurt them. I might indeed, practice an artful, an advantageous reserve upon this occasion, but thinking as I do on the subject of debate, silence would be guilt." – John Dickinson, before congress, on his refusal to vote for independence, July 1, 1776

 

While the rest of the country celebrates Independence Day with barbeques and fireworks, musical theatre lovers like me will gather around their television sets for the traditional viewing of what I and many others call the finest film ever made from a Broadway musical, 1776.

 

 Movie lovers hate this one because it's so stagy, but that's exactly what I love about it. With Broadway director Peter Hunt serving the same duties behind the camera and bookwriter Peter Stone adapting his work and Sherman Edward's score for the screen, plus a congress of stage actors, many of them repeating roles they originated on Broadway, 1776 comes about as close as you can get to recreating the live theatre experience on film without simply sticking a camera in row G center orchestra.

 

But while 1776 is often cited as having one of, if not the best book ever written for a musical (everyone knows the story will end with congress voting for independence and yet Stone brilliantly makes you wonder how the devil its going to happen), I'd like to take a moment to address a gross historical inaccuracy. One that makes a villain out of a true American hero. I'm talking about the musical's depiction of the delegate from the colony of Pennsylvania, Mr. John Dickinson.

 

While the authors paint Dickinson, especially memorable in Donald Madden's film portrayal, as a sneering elitist man of property who objects to independence for fear of the harm it may cause his personal economy, the actual John Dickinson is remembered by historians as one of the great heroes of the revolution. But what separates him from the other famous founding fathers is that, married to a devout Quaker and influenced by the practices of that society for most of his life, Dickinson was a pacifist. Oh sure, he once got into a fight in the middle of Pennsylvania's general assembly during a particularly spirited debate and he did recognize that circumstances may sometimes dictate war as a means of defense, but when Stone has the character calling for "a gentler means of resolving our grievances than revolution" it accurately conveys the man's passionate belief in diplomacy and non-violence as means of settling disputes. (Though when Stone has Dickinson derogatorily calling John Adams, "Lawyer!" it doesn't make much sense since he was one himself.)

 

The musical has Adams saying Thomas Jefferson writes "ten times better than any man in congress," but in actuality it's John Dickinson who was known as "The Penman of the Revolution." His 12-part essay, Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies, was considered a major influence in convincing colonists to unite against Parliament's taxes levied by the Townshend Acts, and so impressed Benjamin Franklin that he published it for distribution in England.

 

In the musical, when John Adams pressures Thomas Jefferson into writing the Declaration of Independence by quoting his work in the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, he is actually repeating the words of John Dickinson. Though congress gave Jefferson the first crack at drafting the document meant to explain to the world why blood was being spilled between colonists and the army of their mother country, his version was considered too forceful, so Dickinson was asked to write a new version using softer language. It was he who penned, "…the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance, employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live slaves." (Did Stone just mess up here or was he perhaps having Adams playing a mind game with Jefferson? No, I think he just messed up.)

 

(Oh, and speaking of slaves, Dickinson was the only founding father to free all of his slaves in his own lifetime, beginning the expensive legal process in 1777.)

 

Jefferson also wrote the first draft of the Olive Branch Petition in 1775; a letter directed to King George III stating that the colonies favor reconciliation over revolution but again Dickinson was brought in to make revisions. And while Jefferson was busy scribbling his parchment with what would become the Declaration of Independence, Dickinson was assigned, at the same time, to head the committee that would write the Articles of Confederation, reasoning that the colonies couldn't declare anything as a whole without an outline for how they would unite.

 

When the declaration was debated and accepted, John Dickinson stood quietly in the back and refused to vote. He could see the inevitable, but stood by his convictions and was the only member of congress to not sign. Many considered him a traitor for his inaction while others admired his courage in sticking with his unpopular beliefs.

 

When the musical's Hancock remarks that they are about to "brave the storm on a skiff made of paper" he is actually quoting Dickinson's argument against sending his ill-prepared countrymen to fight against what was then the world's greatest army.

 

Dickinson did serve briefly in the Continental Army and was a member of the Constitutional Convention, putting his writing skills to further patriotic use by authoring a series of letters, under the penname "Fabius," calling for ratification.

 

Perhaps 1776 would not have grabbed audiences so strongly if the main conflict was between the rebellious John Adams and an eloquent proponent of non-violence who was working hard to help his country through diplomacy. Sometimes people like having good guys and bad guys clearly defined for them. Nevertheless, on the day when we honor American patriots, let's not forget those who strived to win battles with words instead of guns.

 

Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.

Posted on: Friday, July 04, 2014 @ 12:28 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Roaring With Irresistible Charm

 

The irresistible charm of Benjamin Scheuer and his one-man musical, The Lion, tickles you right from the start, as the guitar playing vocalist sings a catchy folk tune about how, when he was a kid, his father instilled in him a life-long love of music by building him a "cookie-tin banjo" with rubber band strings and a strap made from an old necktie.

 

Click here for my full review of The Lion.

 

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Posted on: Monday, June 30, 2014 @ 12:30 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


30/90 in 1991

 
On this weekend when tick, tick... BOOM! is playing at City Center, let's take a look at Jonathan Larson when he was performing the show himself back in 1991 at The Village Gate.
 
 
(And yes, that's Roger Bart providing backup vocals.)
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

Posted on: Saturday, June 28, 2014 @ 06:22 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Too Good For Obscurity

 

You might say that Jonathan Larson's richly emotional and incisive tick, tick... BOOM! started as a protest musical.

 

Frustrated that his much-admired Richard Rodgers Award-winning musical Superbia was said to be too unconventional for Broadway and too big to produce Off-Broadway, the ever-emerging bookwriter/composer/lyricist decided to make his next project a one-man musical.

 

Click here for my full review of tick, tick... BOOM!

 

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Posted on: Saturday, June 28, 2014 @ 04:21 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


A Comedy in 23 Tableaux

 

It's to the great credit of the spirited company of actors, projection designers Roger Hanna and Price Johnson and French playwright Jules Romains himself, that the Mint Theater Company's new production of Donogoo always feels like something wildly funny is just about to happen.

 

 

A zany farce from 1930 satirizing European colonialism, Romains' "comedy in 23 tableaux" has all the makings of a vehicle that might have been driven by the brothers Ritz or Marx.

 

Click here for my full review of Donogoo.

 

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Posted on: Saturday, June 28, 2014 @ 04:21 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


You Won't Be An Orphan For Long

 

Not only was Shia LaBeouf escorted out of Cabaret in handcuffs tonight, but I hear Ben Foster second-acted the show and took his seat.

 

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Posted on: Thursday, June 26, 2014 @ 10:24 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Channeling Anger Into Art

 

Director Kenny Leon and bookwriter Todd Kreidler don't seem the least bit interested in the past as they create a dynamic new musical theatre piece, Holler If Ya Hear Me, to frame the lyrics and poetry of rap artist Tupac Shakur.

 

 

There is no mention of, nor vision of their co-author, who died by gun violence in 1996 at the age of 25, on stage at The Palace. Instead, their traditionally-styled musical (the names of the abundant number of composers whose work is used are listed in the back of the Playbill) tells a contemporary story set in the kind of world Shakur wrote so emphatically about; an unnamed Midwestern city where young black men learn quickly that they will live their lives being watched by suspicious eyes.

 

Ckick here for my full review of Holler If Ya Hear Me.

 

Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.

 

Posted on: Sunday, June 22, 2014 @ 05:44 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Meanings Of Equality

 

In 1972, the year in which Sarah Treem's engrossing drama When We Were Young And Unafraid takes place, both houses of congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, which eventually failed to be ratified by a sufficient number of state legislatures.

 

 

The twenty-four uncomplicated words of the amendment's first section may seem clear enough to any individual, but words and their consequences have a way of being open to interpretation, and even those who the amendment was most meant to benefit were not in total agreement of its meaning and of its value.

 

Click here for my full review of When We Were Young And Unafraid.

 

Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.

 

Posted on: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 @ 09:33 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Where Were You When The Lights Went Out?

 

"Where were you when the lights went out?" is a question that was heard all over America's northeast on November 10th, 1965, after the previous night's blackout left 30 million people without electricity for up to 13 hours.

 

 

That freak occurrence that affected so many lives, caused by a simple human error, is the catalyst that brings together the intersecting stories of Fly By Night, Will Connoly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock's fanciful new musical that glides on wings of whimsy, fate, coincidence and the overpowering belief in finding one's soul mate.

 

Click here for my full review of Fly By Night.

 

Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.

 

Posted on: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 @ 09:33 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


A Thought-Provoking Ride

 

Eugene O'Neill described the period of a woman's heightened sexual desire as a strange interlude. Of course, that was 1923 and he was a guy.

 

 

Playwright Penelope Skinner titles her sweet and dark comedy about a woman's heightened sexual desire during her pregnancy with a blunter term, The Village Bike.  If you're unsure of the meaning of the phrase, take a look in the Lucille Lortel lobby, where patrons can stick their heads into a life-size cutout of the play's logo; a frontal view of a woman in a short dress riding a bicycle with her legs spread open.

 

Click here for my full review of The Village Bike.

 

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Posted on: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 @ 09:33 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Looking Fine at 26

 

There's an old saying that you should never see a Broadway show more than six months into its run because the production starts looking tired and the performances start losing spontaneity.

 

I don't know how the Phantom Of The Opera was doing six months into its Broadway run but at the ripe old age of 26 - and approaching its 11,000th performance - director Harold Prince and producer Cameron Mackintosh's crisp and emotion-laded production is in exemplary shape.

 

Click here for my full review of The Phantom Of The Opera.

 

Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.

 

Posted on: Friday, June 13, 2014 @ 12:49 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


Nanny Trouble

 

The brief opening scene of Nancy Harris' Our New Girl, described by the Atlantic Theater Company as a psychological thriller, contains one of those chilling moments that causes audience members to impulsively gasp, avert their eyes or feel the tingle of their own hairs standing on end.

 

Click here for my full review of Our New Girl.

 

Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.

 

Posted on: Friday, June 13, 2014 @ 12:49 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


A Nostalgic Look at 1978

 

The 2007 Broadway revival of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's Grease added four songs written for the musical's movie version. You might say that Paper Mill's buoyant and polished new mounting, which utilizes that revival's script, adds a fifth. I won't spoil the surprise for you, but it certainly solidifies the fact that Grease on stage has become more about nostalgia for the 1978 film than for the era it depicts.

 

Click here for my full review of Grease.

 

Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.

 

Posted on: Friday, June 13, 2014 @ 12:49 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


A Lifetime of Laughter

 

You might say Jim Dale pulls a bit of a fast one on the audience late into his enchanting career-in-revue, Just Jim Dale.

 

Click here for my full review of Just Jim Dale.

 

Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.

 

Posted on: Friday, June 13, 2014 @ 12:49 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


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About Michael: After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they've had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Shea Stadium pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.

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