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Milk Like Sugar


The inner city teenage girls in Kirsten Greenidge's moving new drama, Milk Like Sugar, want only one thing from a boy... a baby.

When we first meet the trio in a tattoo parlor (A symbol of permanence, I suppose.) the bubbly Margie (Nikiya Mathis) is already eight weeks along and is excited for all the expensive baby stuff she's going to get ("You put what you want on a list. Then everyone you invite to your party has to buy things off that list. That's how it's done, I didn't make that up."), but what would really make her happy is if her pals, the very sexually active Talisha (Cherise Boothe) and the sweet, naïve Annie (Angela Lewis), had kids around the same time so that they could all have fun together dressing them in designer fashions and parading them around in the latest strollers.  But best of all, they see motherhood as a way of providing the unconditional love they see as missing from their lives.  ("Won't need moms no more if we each have tiny little babies made just for us, right?")

Greenidge and director Rebecca Taichman do an excellent job of keeping much of the play very light and funny, showing the carefree exterior these underachievers from poor families exude to cover up their acceptance of a future with little opportunity.  (My guest, a Manhattan schoolteacher, vouches for the accuracy of the hip-hop slang dialogue and attitudes portrayed.)  The story centers on Annie, played with touching empathy by Lewis, and her relationships with her mother and the boy she tries having sex with.

Malik (J. Mallory-McCree) likes Annie, but won't father her child because he can see a future beyond a community that is so accustomed to settling for compromised happiness, like powered milk that's kept on the shelf like sugar, that they tend to prefer it.  Tonya Pinkins is striking as Annie's emotionally damaged mother who sees no escape for her daughter from the negative cycle of life that's been firmly established through generations.  There's a bit of a problem in casting Pinkins in that she doesn't look young enough to have given birth to Annie as a teen - a fact that isn't stated until later in the play so the parallel isn't clear from the start - but her firm, understated performance is outstanding.

Also pulling at Annie's emotions are the charismatic tattoo artist, Antwoine (LeRoy McClain) and a new friend, overweight loner Keera (Adrienne C. Moore) who has delusions of a perfect family life and being part of a supportive church community.

Taichman, set designer Mimi LienMimi LienMimi Lien and lighting designer Justin Townsend make the most of Playwrights Horizons' intimate Peter Jay Sharp TheatPeterPeter Jay Sharp Theater, utilizing just an imposing wall and limited furnishings.  Toni-Leslie JamesToni=Leslie James' costumes do a fine job of character-defining, as does sound designer Andre Pluess' collection of varying cell phone rings and signals.

Photos by Ari Mintz: Top: Angela Lewis, Cherise Boothe, and Nikiya Mathis; Bottom: Tonya Pinkins and Angela Lewis.

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Posted on: Wednesday, November 02, 2011 @ 10:21 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Love's Labor's Lost: Bright College Days

Love's Labor's Lost, generally not regarded as a top tier Shakespeare effort, might get performed a lot more frequently if more productions were as fun and frisky as director Karin Coonrod's madcap mounting for the Public Theater's Public Lab series.

The comic setup is a classic one.  Ferdinand, King of Navarre (Hoon Lee) makes a vow with his three young lords (Nick Westrate, Keith Eric Chappelle and Jorge Chacon) to give up any pursuits of women for the next three years in order to concentrate on their studies.  You know where this is going, don't you?  It just so happens that the lovely Princess of France (Renee Elise Goldsberry) is in town, along with her three pretty attendants (Rebecca Brooksher, Samira Wiley and Michelle Beck) and once the boys get a look they're uncontrollably torn between their urges and their vows.  While the ladies return their affection, they also find the behavior of the gents to be odd and amusing.

The richly-voiced Lee's Ferdinand is a model of crisp nobility until he gets silly over the princess, played with sharp, sexy intelligence by Goldsberry.  Coonrod's staging incorporates all areas of the Public's three-sided Anspacher Theater and nobody takes fuller advantage of it than Westrate.  As Berowne, the most verbose of the king's lords, he frequently takes his speeches into the audience, chatting up anyone who happens to be sitting next to an empty chair.  (Though his jaunty antics are very funny, let's hope he doesn't have many opportunities to sit in empty chairs as the run continues.  All seats are bargain-priced at $15.)

Though the lovers' scenes have their share of rough and tumble clowning, the comic subplot actors also excel in their spirited hijinks; including Steven Skybell and Francis Jue as a scholarly pair whose debates take on a vaudevillian crackle, and Reg E. Cathey as an eccentrically poetic Spanish knight with his heart set on a country lass, played with smoldering aloofness by Stephanie DiMaggio.

Robert Stanton makes for a sturdy straight man foil in his dual roles as a constable and a lord attending to the princess.  Wiley also doubles-up, impishly portraying the knight's page.

Oana Botez-Ban's clever costumes seem to set the piece in a boys-only college town of a non-specific 20th Century period, though there are plenty of classical touches.  The male lovers sport uniform blazers, high stockings and short pants and their female counterparts, perhaps from a sister school, look sharp in their boots, pantaloons and crisp white tuxedo shirts.  John Conklin's simple set design places the action on a large patch of grass (the quad?) with a chart of the solar system chalked on the upstage wall.  More than once Coonrod's merry madness reminded me of the Marx Brothers' antics at Huxley College in Horse Feathers.

Photos by Richard Termine: Top: Rebecca Brooksher, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Michelle Beck, and Samira Wiley; Bottom: Robert Stanton, Francis Jue, Reg E. Cathey, Steven Skybell and Mousa Kraish.

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Posted on: Tuesday, November 01, 2011 @ 02:52 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 10/30 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"Every actor is somewhat mad, or else he'd be a plumber or a bookkeeper or a salesman."
--Bela Lugosi



Read more: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/b/bela_lugosi.html#ixzz1cOddf8il

 

The grosses are out for the week ending 10/30/2011 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: RELATIVELY SPEAKING (1.2%), CHINGLISH (1.1%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (0.8%),

Down for the week was: BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (-13.7%), MEMPHIS (-13.3%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (-11.4%), THE ADDAMS FAMILY (-10.6%), FOLLIES (-10.2%), MARY POPPINS (-10.1%), ROCK OF AGES (-8.9%), THE MOUNTAINTOP (-7.3%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-7.3%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-6.5%), SISTER ACT (-5.5%), MAN AND BOY (-5.4%), ANYTHING GOES (-4.8%), CHICAGO (-4.5%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (-4.3%), JERSEY BOYS (-3.8%), GODSPELL (-1.0%), WICKED (-0.9%), VENUS IN FUR (-0.3%), MAMMA MIA! (-0.1%),

Posted on: Monday, October 31, 2011 @ 05:17 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Dancing at Lughnasa & Jason Graae's Perfect Hermany

"Atmosphere is more real than truth," explains Michael Evans, the narrating character recalling his childhood days in Brian Friel's thickly atmospheric Dancing At Lughnasa, now enjoying a warm and lovely mounting by Charlotte Moore at the Irish Rep.

Though we only see Michael through the philosophically aloof performance of Ciaran O'Reilly, his seven-year-old presence, invisible to the audience, is bathed in affection by his mother and the four aunts he grew up with in the fictional town of Ballybeg in Ireland's County Donegal.  He may have been in the midst of a happy childhood during the summer of 1936, but as an adult he can recognize the sadness in the lives of his mother and aunts, all unmarried, as they struggle to keep up with an ever-changing world.  Their spirits can be ethusiastically risen, though, when their unreliable radio, which they've named Marconi, sees fit to blare out a hit tune or a tradition Irish folk song, setting forth an improvisation of joyous dance.

Loosly based on the lives of Friel's own family, the play takes place during the harvest festival of Lughnasa.  Antje Ellermann set contrasts the splender of the local landscape with the modest cottage with well-worn furnishings the sisters share.

Michael's mother, Chiris (sweetly played by Annabel Hagg), lives for the sporatic visits from her child's father, Gerry (Kevin Collins), a former ballroom instructor turned traveling gramaphone salesman, whose latest scheme to seek adventure makes it clear that he has no intention of settling down with her.  Gerry has also attracted the affections of Agnes (Rachel Pickup), whose quiet longing for him is especially touching when they share a dance.

Agnes makes a modest living knitting gloves with the mentally challenged Rose (Aedin Moloney, showing irresistible optimistic passion); a business threated by the upcoming arrival of a new knitwear factory.  Rose, though, is happily under the spell of a married man who she's convinced is in love with her.

The hearty Maggie (Jo Kinsella) runs the household while schoolteacher Kate (Orlagh Cassidy) is the primary breadwinner.  Cassidy is excellent, showing the tender caring under Kate's stern exterior.  Michael Countryman is colorful and amusing as their brother, Father Jack, who has returned from missionary work in Uganda with some very un-Catholic notions about life and whose presence threatens Kate's position.

While there are great personal tragedies in store for the grownups in Michael's life, Friel never treads into heavy drama.  The play emphasizes the simple everyday events that separate home and family from the threats of the outside world, and Moore and her ensemble do a very fine job of displaying both the supportive sisterhood and hints of the perpetual sadness underneath.

Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Orlagh Cassidy, Aedin Moloney, Jo Kinsella, Michael Countryman, Rachel Pickup and Annabel Hagg; Bottom: Ciaran O'Reilly.

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It was bad enough when the Dodgers and the Giants ditched town for California, but whatever has lured Jason Graae to make the left coast his home base has robbed Gotham of a gifted musical theatre clown who, thankfully, does pop into town from time to time.

Honoring Jerry Herman in this year of his 80th birthday, Perfect Hermany, (which just ended a brief run at the Laurie Beechman Theatre at the West Bank Cafe) isn't so much a retrospective of the man himself, but more of an anecdotal party where the host elicits hearty guffaws with tales ranging from his first, unsuccessful, audition for the great composer/lyricist to his being asked to premiere a revised edition of the underappreciated The Grand Tour.

With music director/arranger John Boswell at piano (Lee Tannen directs), Graae begins the festivities on the oboe, as the two duet a little overture that brings out some of the klezmer qualities of La Cage aux Follies' title song and lets us savor the beautiful melody of Dear World's "I've Never Said 'I Love You.'"  Even before the music begins, Graae has the audience in stitches miming the classic "Can he really play that?" routine.  The answer is "yes," but when he pulls out a portable floor and changes shoes for "Tap You Troubles Away," the joke is that he's barely moving his feet, despite the Ann Miller attitude.

It's that mock bravado and tongue-in-cheek shameless showmanship that makes Graae so darn funny, particularly when he's doing things like going out into the audience to chat up notables while singing, "You I Like," or turning to Ron Raines, who was at a front table the night I attended and crooning, "Follies will never go away again."

But Graae can be charmingly serious as he slips into a Polish/Jewish accent for a pairing of the gorgeous "Marianne" and the impishly humorous "Mrs. S.L. Jacobowsky" from The Grand Tour, and emphatically impassioned in his superb "I Don't Want To Know."  Presenting "I Am What I Am" in the context of honoring recent victims of bullying is a moving choice making his defiant performance all the more heart-breaking.

Graae stays away from Herman's comic material (none of the very funny songs from Parade) but instead cleverly injects humor into more innocent material.  Late in the evening a terrific medley begins as he pretends to be annoyed that a waiter hasn't passed down his drink refill.  He anxiously sings, "Where's that boy with the vodka?," before launching into an angry, "Wherever He Ain't."  When the large, stony-faced server finally arrives, Graae tries smoothing things out with a bit of "Bosom Buddies."

He ventures back out into the audience for a sing-along of the big number - you know the one I mean - surprising customers who suddenly find a microphone aimed at them.  And though he quipped "very close" after I tried locating the key while singing "never go away," Perfect Hermany had me once again wishing that Jason Graae would never go away again.

Photo by Jennifer Broski.

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Posted on: Monday, October 31, 2011 @ 10:16 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Chinglish: Western People Funny

Ever hear the one about the handicapped restroom at a Chinese tourist attraction that was labeled for English-speaking visitors, "Deformed Man's Toilet"?  Or the one about the American trying to seduce his new Chinese love in her native language with the romantic words, "Frog loves to pee"?  Such miscommunications serve as the inspiration for David Henry Hwang's hip, sexy and very funny comedy of cultural awkwardness, Chinglish.

As Cleveland businessman Daniel Cavanaugh, Gary Wilmes opens the play with a video presentation explaining how Mao's decision to simplify his country's language by giving characters multiple, unrelated meanings has born embarrassing results in his field; that of providing multi-lingual signage.

We flashback to his experiences in the small Chinese city of Guiyang, where Daniel is trying to secure a contract to have his company create the English signage for a new cultural center.  His British interpreting consultant, Peter (Stephen Pucci), schools him in the local business practice of Guanxi; the deal-maker's art of establishing trust through long-term personal contact.

Modesty is highly valued, he's told, and in the next scene, a first meeting with high-ranking government minister Cai (Larry Lei Zhang) and his second, Xi Yan (Jennifer Lim), his explanation, "We're a small family firm," is interpreted by an ill-prepared translator (a hilarious turn by Angela Lin) as, "His company is tiny and insignificant."

Zhang gives Cai one of those jovial shells that hides his manipulative nature but the excellent Lim's initially cold Xi Yan doesn't hide her distrust of foreigners.  Wilmes plays Daniel with a wide-eyed, Midwestern sincerity that could be honest or might be a public image.  The bulk of the evening focuses on the dealings between Daniel and Xi Yan as it eventually becomes apparent that not everyone is what they appear to be and that miscommunications are the results of cultural differences in determining values and morality.

But it's another type of miscommunication that steals the show.  The play's Chinese characters speak in Mandarin with English translations flashed onto convenient sections of designer David Korins' set.  Much of the evening's humor comes from letting the audience in on awkward mistakes resulting from translations that are too literal and words that are confused due to tiny shades of difference in enunciation.  Hwang's exchanges are frequently uproarious but at times he lets the joke stretch a bit too far, making scenes appear like comic sketches that have lost their steam.

Fortunately, director Leigh Silverman excels at this kind of quirky realism and her slick production and terrific ensemble gloss over some of the rough spots.  Korins' double-turntables do a great job of choreographing set changes between several locations; all comically depicted as bland and sterile, save for slight cultural touches.

Though Chinglish can stand a bit of trimming and more empathy for its fish-out-of-water central character, Hwang's cleverness and Silverman's staging still make it a smart and fun night out.

Photos by Michael McCabe: Top: Jennifer Lim and Gary Wilmes; Bottom: Stephen Pucci, Gary Wilmes, Angela Lin and Larry Lei Zhang.

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Posted on: Friday, October 28, 2011 @ 06:00 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Elaine Stritch at Town Hall

I'm taking up a collection to buy Elaine Stritch a pair of pants.

Not that she'd wear them, of course.  Ever since roaring into Broadway legend status with her solo show, At Liberty, Ms. Stritch has been doing very well for herself in her now trademark ensemble of black stockings, high heels and a loose-fitting, white tailored shirt.  Because, as a cabaret and concert artist, she is, above anything else, a canny actress who knows that any attempt to blend in puts her at a disadvantage.

So when dealing with a problem that's a natural occurrence in the careers of older performers, failing memory, she does not take the polite route of having lyrics sheets available or, as many great older cabaret artists tend to do, quickly requesting a prompt and then immediately plunging back into the material.  No, Stritch makes no apologies for the fact that this 86-year-old broad is going to forget her lines and lyrics many times throughout the evening.  Accept that it's a part of the show or you're in for a miserable time.

But understand that there's nothing sad about watching her frequent glances to her piano-playing music director, Rob Bowman, which are followed by his enthusiastic cues.  It is a well-polished partnership with just enough improvisation to invigorate the tightrope-walking spectacle.

"Wait'll you see what you're gonna see," she warns her audience with a little chuckle and a big smile that tells us we're all in for an adventure.

Her performance for Town Hall's Broadway Cabaret Festival this past Saturday night was an encore of her recent Café Carlisle tribute to the lyrics and (usually) music of Stephen Sondheim.  And while Stritch is highly regarded as a master of Mr. Albee's acid tongue and Mr. Coward's elegant cadence, it is with Sondheim's wry realism that she's found her soul mate.  Her performance of "The Ladies Who Lunch" (with which she needed no prompting) is, as ever, an arch commentary on Manhattan class warfare mixed with sobering self-reflection, but when she performs "Every Day A Little Death" unaccompanied, as a dramatic monologue, with no regard to the lyric's rhyme pattern, the depths of emotional defeat she reaches are stunningly raw.   Likewise, she downplays the marching rhythm of "A Parade In Town" and turns it into a quiet soliloquy about being forgotten.

But this is Elaine Stritch, so you know there's gonna be the funny.  As soon as the band began playing the familiar Bernstein vamp to "I Feel Pretty," there were guffaws of anticipation from the house and the actress' deadpan glare on lines like "It's alarming how charming I feel" fulfilled expectations.  Eyes certainly must have widened as she began the verbally demanding "Everybody Says Don't" and indeed, this one did tax the performer's memory.  But the back and forth teamwork between singer and accompanist as they both barreled through the text provided the evening with one of its most exciting and eventually exuberant moments, earning cheers for their effort.  There were also cheers for her throwaway delivery of, "Here she is, boys," signaling that for only her second number of the night she was about to tackle "Rose's Turn."  Having informed her guests that she has never been asked to star in Gypsy, Rose's gutsy declaration that she could have been than all of 'em is fueled by the actress' determination to prove than she would have been pretty damn good herself.

By the time she's modestly chirping "Thank You So Much" at the end of the evening, nobody would have dared to doubt it.

Photo by Walter McBride/WM Photos.

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Posted on: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 @ 04:55 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 10/23 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"I think being boring is just the worst sin of all time."

-- Elaine Stritch

 

The grosses are out for the week ending 10/23/2011 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: GODSPELL (9.1%), BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (5.1%), MARY POPPINS (3.7%), MEMPHIS (2.5%), THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1.7%), ROCK OF AGES (1.2%), MAMMA MIA! (0.5%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (0.3%), WICKED (0.2%), WAR HORSE (0.1%),

Down for the week was: MAN AND BOY (-6.6%), VENUS IN FUR (-5.7%), FOLLIES (-4.9%), THE MOUNTAINTOP (-4.1%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-3.8%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (-3.4%), CHINGLISH (-2.3%), JERSEY BOYS (-1.5%), CHICAGO (-1.2%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (-1.1%), ANYTHING GOES (-0.9%), RELATIVELY SPEAKING (-0.6%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-0.1%),

Posted on: Monday, October 24, 2011 @ 04:35 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Relatively Speaking & Man and Boy

The three one-act comedies that comprise Relatively Speaking are said to be connected by their common theme of finding humor blossoming from the family tree.  But really, don't be bothered with any themes or messages in this one.  All that matters is that playwrights Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen, director John Turturro and a company loaded with top-notch comedy actors have whipped up a solid evening of laughs that just gets funnier and funnier as the night goes on.

Coen's curtain-raiser, Talking Cure has Danny Hoch as a menacing, but genially chatty post office worker assigned to a psychiatric hospital after an altercation with a customer.  Jason Kravits plays the doctor engaging him in conversation as treatment, which gives the patient a platform for his violent and philosophical musings.  Eventually we get a flashback peak at what may have shaped his mental state.

In Elaine May's George Is Dead, Marlo Thomas is a hoot as Doreen, a wealthy woman with her own unique way of grieving after getting word that her husband was killed in a skiing accident.  ("They called me from Aspen. He died doing a double snowplow on the intermediate hill. We're going to sue, of course but it's too fresh for me to think about that.")  She arrives at the home of Carla (Lisa Emery), the daughter of the nanny who raised her, looking for sympathy and someone to scrape the excess salt off of her saltines.  Carla, who grew up convinced that her mother loved Doreen more than her, has spent her life trying to prove her worth with an overly-altruistic nature that is breaking up her marriage.  May definitely nails the zingers, particularly when Doreen has a breakdown over the "pressures" of her life (Thomas plays it hilariously as Doreen stresses over her indecisive staff: "Would you like quiche or a soufflé, shall we cut the roses or will the poppies be happier, will you want a fire in the bedroom or are you going into Manhattan... and on and on and on.") but she also draws out empathy for these two women discovering what each meant to the other in their childhood.

Woody Allen's Honeymoon Motel opens with a sight gag nearly as old as silent movies, and it's a perfect signal for the screwball insanity ahead.  Set in the tackiest of Long Island motel suites, Jerry and Nina (Steve Guttenberg and Ari Graynor) are an ecstatic couple ready for a night of honeymoon passion.   There's just one problem...  I won't reveal it, but let's just say it might remind you a bit of a chapter from the playwright's personal life.  Somehow the wedding guests have tracked the couple down and with every knock on the door enters another zany character and a slew of borscht belt jokes.  ("Did you see the look on the rabbi's face? Like someone gave back the West Bank.")

There's Grant Shaud in his expertly neurotic form as Jerry's friend trying to talk some sense into him, Julie Kavner and Mark Linn-Baker as the bride's bickering parents, Richard Libertini spewing out biblical nonsense as the inebriated rabbi and Danny Hoch as a philosophical pizza delivery guy who tries acting as peacemaker.

Fast and furious one-liners frequently come out of nowhere ("In Poland, where my grandparents came from, they serve pizza with no salt, no cheese, no tomato sauce, no flour. There was no taste, but the portions were huge.") and while gags about Lorena Bobbitt, Freud's cigar and the dangers of trying to have sex in a Jacuzzi may seem familiar, Honeymoon Motel is still a riotously funny capper to a great night of comedy.

Photos by Joan Marcus:  Top: Lisa Emery and Marlo Thomas; Bottom: Ari Graynor and Steve Guttenberg.

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Having firmly established himself as one of the finest actors we currently have regularly gracing the Broadway stage, Frank Langella's presence turns any production into an event.  And with the plot of Terrence Rattigan's 1963 drama, Man and Boy, giving him a chance to play a scoundrel of a cold-hearted businessman experiencing a downfall suggesting that of Bernard Madoff, it might be thought that Roundabout has taken a reasonable risk in reviving a play that flopped quickly in its London and Broadway debuts, especially since they've brought in director Maria Aitken, whose 2006 British production was better received.

Langella does make a hearty feast of Romanian-born financier Gregor Antonescu, who, at the wth of the Great Depression, arrives at the Greenwich Village basement apartment of his son, Vassily (Adam Driver), who long ago cut off ties and makes a meager living as a piano player.  (Perhaps it was the need to fill up the stage of the American Airlines Theatre that motivated designer Derek McLane to provide a setting that looks downright palatial in size compared with your average Greenwich Village basement apartment.)  It seems that Gregor is trying to secure a merger with a closeted CEO (Zach Herries) by hinting that Vassily, who is actually straight, might make himself available to him.  But when the press leaks word about his multimillion dollar dirty dealings it sets the police on the prowl.  Vassily offers the unconditional love he never got from his father by trying to plot an escape while the old man considers suicide.

The play is primarily a portrait of a man who matter-of-factly rejects any emotional attachment in his life ("Love is a commodity I can't afford.") and Langella's sly elegance beams a charming, old world manner that slowly crumbles in a young country toying with socialist concepts to climb out of hardship.  The evening takes off when Driver's Vassily challenges his father's immorality, while still yearning for paternal affection, but most of the talky, drawn-out production lumbers in Aitken's rather perfunctory staging.

The company is capable, but all eyes are likely to be fixed on the crafty and detailed Langella who lifts the play into a satisfying night out.

Photo of Frank Langella by Joan Marcus.

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Posted on: Friday, October 21, 2011 @ 06:08 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Originals

"I want you to know that the most exciting part I've received recently is my new knee."

That's how Tammy Grimes greeted the Town Hall audience on Sunday as she braced herself on a walker in her first public performance since replacement surgery; singing a trio from her Tony-winning stint 50 years ago as The Unsinkable Molly Brown.  Her pipes still strong and expressive, that unique timbre once again brought tenderness to "My Own Brass Bed" and optimistic verve to her signature march, "I Ain't Down Yet."  Sandwiched between them was "I'll Never Say No," which was introduced by her leading man, Harve Presnell.  ("I'm going to sing Harve's song in Harve's honor... in Harve's key.")

Such moments of nostalgia and excitement have become expected at Broadway Originals, traditionally one-third of Town Hall's Broadway Cabaret Festival.  Now in its seventh year, the annual trio of concerts created, written and hosted by Scott Siegel will continue on October 22nd with a concert by Elaine Stritch and conclude with A Tribute to Judy Garland and the Art of American Dance, featuring Lorna Luft and Susann Stroman, on October 28th.

This edition of the show, directed by Scott Coulter, stretched back as far as 1958, with Yvonne Constant giving her rousing rendition, in both French and English, of a popular tune she performed in La Plume de Ma Tante, "One of Those Songs."  In another classic re-creation, Lorraine Serabian ended the concert with her thrilling "Life Is" from Zorba.  Earlier on, she explained how she was originally a chorus member who was understudying the role of The Leader when the show was in rehearsals, but was graduated to her featured part by the first out of town preview.  Now of the age where should could play Zorba's leading lady, Serabian gave a saucy performance of a number introduced in the show by Maria Karnilova, one of Kander and Ebb's great story-telling songs, "No Boom Boom."

Barnum's Marianne Tatum displayed her still-lovely soprano with "Love Makes Such Fools of Us All," and vamped comically with "L'Amour, Toujours L'Amour" from her Drama Desk nominated performance in The Three Musketeers.

Though the great impressionist Marilyn Michaels is not especially known for musical theatre, she did star in the national tour of Funny Girl and belted out a socko "Don't Rain On My Parade."  She followed with a pair of hilarious routines from her gig in Catskills On Broadway, where she sang Rogers and Hart's "Manhattan" with a series of pin-point impersonations (Dinah Shore, Joan Rivers, Diana Ross, Bette Midler and even Jackie Mason) and performed a condensed version of The Wizard of Oz, mimicking Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke and, of course, the representatives of The Lollipop Guild.

A pair of trios were reunited.  Crazy For You's Manhattan Rhythm Kings (Tripp Hanson, Brian M. Nalepka and Hal Shine) lent their harmonies once again for "Bidin' My Time" and "The Real American Folk Song Is a Rag."  Caroline, Or Change composer Jeanine Tesori temporarily replaced music director John Fischer at piano to accompany her musical's "Radio Ladies" (Ramona Keller, Marva Hicks and understudy Vanessa A. Jones) in "Salty Tears" after recalling how director George C. Wolfe used to tease her about her "Church Lady" singing voice when she played new songs for him.  Their performance was dedicated to the beloved Broadway performer, the late Alice Playten.

More memories were provided by Bob Stillman ("Drift Away" from Grey Gardens), Sarah Uriarte Berry ("Safe In The City" from Taboo), Daisy Eagan ("The Girl I Used To Be" from The Secret Garden), Jesus Garcia & Ben Davis ("O Mimi tu piu non torni" from La Boheme), Andrea Frierson ("The Human Heart" from Once On This Island) and, in the 11 o'clock spot, Alexander Gemignani's beautifully delicate performance of Les Miserables' "Bring Him Home."

Photos by Genevieve Rafter Keddy: Top: Tammy Grimes; Bottom: Marilyn Michaels.

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Posted on: Thursday, October 20, 2011 @ 04:41 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

"Do you really think Apple doesn't know?"

What makes that question so unsettling when Mike Daisey rather simply asks it of his audience is that the unspoken follow-up inquires if we really don't know.  Sure, most Americans have some awareness of the less-than-worker-friendly conditions under which some of our foreign-manufactured products are made, but in his newest monologue, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Daisey's description of the Foxconn Technology plant in Shenzhen, China, where iPads and iPhones are manufactured, can severely test one's consumer loyalty.

Part investigative journalist, part op-ed columnist, part borscht belt comic (It would not be surprising if his bloodline connected somewhere with that of Zero Mostel's.), Daisey's style of theatrical monologue doesn't vary, whether he's discussing Homeland Security (If You See Something, Say Something), international finance (The Last Cargo Cult) or, in this case, the human cost of improving our lives.  Directed by his wife, Jean-Michele Gregory, Daisey sits at a desk for the entire performance, speaking extemporaneously from notes hand-written on sheets of paper.  He speaks non-stop without a break (for 2 hours, in this case), and while not exactly a comedian, he's a large man of large gestures who tends to work in a stock repertory of vocal gags and broad facial expressions that act as spoonfuls of sugar to help his medicine go down.  Sure, his evenings can usually stand a little trimming and some of his shtick can get a little predictable, but Daisey is a captivating story-teller, particularly in his ability to make personal tales resonate with universal relevance.

In The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which he's been performing for over a year and, by his report, has been revised only minimally since the death of Apple's co-founder the week before his previews at the Public Theater began, Daisey weaves together three separate narratives; one being his own personal obsession with Apple products ("I never knew I needed a laptop so thin I could slice a pastrami sandwich with it.  But then I saw it and I wanted it.") and another being a brief history of Jobs' career and business strategy of discontinuing beloved older products and forcing upgrades to newer models (His sobs of disappointment at the loss of the iPod Mini are soon replaced by hungry yearnings for the iPod Nano.).

Those two greatly feed and give context to the third narrative, the story of how, posing as an American businessman, he had the opportunity to speak with some of the plant's 430,000 workers.  He tells of children as young as twelve and thirteen working twelve-hour shifts (longer during rush periods), performing tasks so repetitive that their disfigured fingers make them unsuitable for employment within ten years.  He tells of the hellish existence in this self-contained city, where 25 enormous cafeterias are each continually packed with 10,000 workers and where nets are hung outside the buildings to curtail an outbreak of employees choosing to leap to their deaths instead of spending one more day at Foxconn.

Daisey never disputes the visionary achievements of Jobs, nor does he set him up as some abhorable villain.  The point is more that Apple's extraordinary success was achieved through Jobs' capability to exploit a religion of consumerism that has fueled American technological advancements for the last hundred years.  As audience members leave the theatre, ushers hand them sheets of paper listing the author's suggestions for individual steps they can take to limit their own contributions to the donation plate.

Photo of Mike Daisey by Joan Marcus.

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Posted on: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 @ 05:08 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 10/16 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"I think an artist has always to be out of step with his time."
-- Orson Welles

 

The grosses are out for the week ending 10/16/2011 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: THE MOUNTAINTOP (12.4%), RELATIVELY SPEAKING (11.0%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (9.2%), THE ADDAMS FAMILY (8.7%), FOLLIES (8.2%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (7.6%), MAN AND BOY (5.2%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (5.0%), BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (3.0%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (2.6%), MEMPHIS (2.3%), WICKED (1.9%), MAMMA MIA! (1.8%), CHICAGO (1.1%), JERSEY BOYS (0.5%),

Down for the week was: MARY POPPINS (-5.6%), SISTER ACT (-5.2%), ROCK OF AGES (-1.4%), ANYTHING GOES (-1.1%), WAR HORSE (-0.1%),

Posted on: Monday, October 17, 2011 @ 06:47 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback




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.