Showtime! features reviews, commentary and assorted theatrical musings from Michael Dale,'s Chief Theatre Critic. To submit amusing backstage banter, absurd audience observations or noteworthy links to Showtime!, click here. Anonymity's guaranteed. My not taking credit for your clever remark isn't.

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The Patsy & Jonas

When Barry Connors' frothy family comedy, The Patsy, enjoyed its seven-month at the Booth during Broadway's 1925-26 season, it was a three-act play utilizing one living room set and seven actors.  Transport Group's new production, directed by Jack Cummings III, reduces the piece to an intermissionless 75 minutes, minimizes the set to a sparsely furnished room and casts each role with five time OBIE Award winning actor/playwright David Greenspan.

The play is most certainly not the thing in this case.  In fact, set and costume designer Dane Laffrey has the actor nearly looking like a caged animal in a zoo, spiritedly performing for passers-by.  The playing space is a cube-shaped room, elevated several feet from the floor, with no doors.  Greenspan enters from offstage, dressed in a neutral slacks and sweater combo, and hops up onto the parquet floor of the middle-class Harrington family's home.  The floral wallpapered room contains six chairs and a desk holding two lamps and a phone.

As himself, the actor recites to us the information most likely found on the published edition's title page, including the names of the characters, and then speaks the stage directions which describe the room in more elaborate detail.  After sound designer Michael Rasbury's doorbell ring, which sounds like it was taken from a scratchy period phonograph record, the play proper begins and Greenspan acts out the Cinderella story of how young Patricia Harrington shows her prettier, more popular older sister Grace and her materialistic mother that she, too, can win the heart of a worthy gentleman.

Owing to the quaint humor of the play and the charismatic energy of the actor, it's all rather amusing at first.  Greenspan is especially funny as the family patriarch, a bit of a windbag trying to establish himself as the authority figure of the household.  But in portraying the mother's melodramatics in the acting style of the day, he frequently spills into campy female impersonation.  The two sisters tend to blend into each other and, when tempers start flaring, volumes rise and the dialogue quickly bounces from person to person it becomes increasingly difficult to tell who is speaking.  Despite an admirable effort by Greenspan, the novelty of the evening wears thin by the midway point.

An exceptionally well-played scene, however, involves the courtship of Patricia and her beau, which is played with lovely gentleness.  Greenspan even manages to show us the lovers kissing without looking ridiculous.

Following most performances of The Patsy, after a half-hour intermission, Greenspan performs his 40-minute monologue, Jonas.  Also directed by Cummings, in Jonas the playwright takes on a quieter demeanor, seated the whole time, as he discusses the back story he created for playing Jo, the manservant, in last season's revival of The Royal Family.  It's a bit of a stream-of-conscious meditation as he considers the relationship between actor, character and playwright.  While intriguing at first, and ripe with poetic language and rhythm, the meandering content also overstays its welcome.

Photo of David Greenspan by Carol Rosegg.

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Posted on: Monday, July 25, 2011 @ 06:32 AM Posted by: Michael Dale

Broadway's Rising Stars: Sing Happy

As I wrote five years ago, regarding the first edition of Town Hall's Annual Broadway's Rising Stars concert, the traditional middle evening of their Summer Broadway Festival, this is an event where I have absolutely no intention of writing anything the least bit negative about any of the young performers who were hand-picked by Scott and Barbara Siegel to sing an evening of showtunes.  I have no desire to be the critic who drives some 22-year-old to tears with a bit of constructive criticism, inspiring him or her to angrily vow to the heavens, "Someday I'll show that Michael Dale!"

Fortunately, the Siegels keep delivering a fine young crop of recent musical theatre graduates, their rougher edges polished keenly by director Scott Coulter, choreographer Vibecke Dahle and music director John Fischer.

After a clever opening number, where the cast of 19 lightly spoofed Michael Bennett's A Chorus Line staging by taking out their resume pics and singing the classic "One" about themselves, host Scott Siegel got down to the business of introducing each performer for his or her featured solo.

This year's company represented AMDA, CAP21, Steinhardt, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Carnegie Melon, Marymount Manhattan College and The New School but their interest in musical theatre was sparked in home towns from as far off as Sydney, Australia (Philippa Lynas, "On My Own") and Seoul, South Korea (Esther Kong, "Part of Your World" & Gyu Jin Lim, "I'd Give My Life For You).  Housso Semon, who hails from the Ivory Coast, was trapped in the middle of a civil war zone with her family, in hiding for two weeks, which might have inspired her performance of "Easy To Be Hard."

The more local talent included performers brought up in West Virginia (Graham Bailey, "Finishing the Hat"), Milwaukee (Jeanette Monson, "You'll Never Walk Alone"), Texas (Kevin Mueller, "16 Tons"), Los Angeles (Amanda Savan, "Being Alive"), New Jersey (Paul Pontrelli, "Wheels of a Dream") and even Brooklyn (Jason Gotay, "Out There").  Charlotte, North Carolina's Alex Goley had his mom get into the act, yelling out advice from the audience for his rendition of "Mama Says" from Footloose.

Two of the evening's soloists already had a Broadway credit from childhood.  From the last revival of The Sound of Music, Morgan Billings Smith sang and tap danced her way through "The Trolley Song" and, from Annie Get Your Gun, Blair Goldberg belted "Don't Rain On My Parade."

Kyle Scatliffe ("Make Them Hear You") had dreams of being a basketball star, but his lack of wth steered him into musical theatre.  A sudden growth spurt increased his NBA potential, but by then he was hooked on the stage.

Mary Lane Haskell revealed her fondness for the brassy musicals of the 60s with the title tune from I Had A Ball and Kiarri D. Andrews showed an introspective side with "If I Sing."

Anthony Ramos Martinez, who has only been studying acting for three years, tinkered slightly with the lyric of "Nothing" to make the number more personal.

Tristan Morris led the male chorus in a rousing "Into The Fire" and Courtney Simmons opened the second act backed up by the ensemble for "Nobody's Side."

Throughout the evening, Siegel emphasized how the influence of an adult mentor, usually a parent or a teacher, is often the key to young people discovering a passion for performing.  And while the odds against sustaining a steady career in the theatre are great, just having the opportunity to practice their art, for however long they can, is enrichment to their lives and comfort for their souls.

Break a leg for many years to come.

Photos by Genevieve Rafter Keddy:  Top: Esther Kong; Bottom: Kyle Scatliffe

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Posted on: Sunday, July 24, 2011 @ 05:57 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 7/17 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"Cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth."
-- Lillian Hellman


The grosses are out for the week ending 7/17/2011 and we've got them all right here in's grosses section.



Posted on: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 @ 09:51 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

Broadway Winners

If I were delusional enough to think my scribblings could turn an unknown into a star overnight, then I'd be writing these words fully confident that by tomorrow morning every Broadway producer in town would want to sign a young musical comedy actress named Oakley Boycott.  Yes, Oakley Boycott is her actual name and as a performer she's as unique as her moniker.  I first saw her two years ago at one of Town Hall's Broadway's Rising Stars concerts, where she floored the place as a rhythmically-challenged singer awkwardly pounding her way through John Kroner's "Where's The Beat."  Since then it seems her New York appearances have been limited to Scott Siegel's Town Hall concerts and doing concert musicals for Mel Miller's Musicals Tonight!

Very tall, very thin and very blonde, Ms. Boycott seems fully aware that she does not blend in with the crowd and is very happy to stick out.  She combines classic Hollywood confidence and elegance with an aggressively boisterous sense of comedy; a sort-of punk rock Cyd Charrisse.  At Broadway Winners, a concert of songs that, either individually or as a score, were honored with some award or another (and was the opening concert of this year's Town Hall Summer Broadway Festival), Boycott's performance of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein Weimar Kabaret spoof, "He Vas My Boyfriend," was sung (and sometimes shouted) with a maniacal twinge that illuminated her character's combination of lust and fear for her abusive beau.  The generally older Town Hall subscription crowd, many of whom I suspect saw the likes of beloved clowns like Judy Holliday and Barbara Harris on Broadway, roared with laughter and gave her the kind of cheering ovation usually reserved for better-known names.

It's still very early in her career, but, as a performer, Oakley Boycott is the kind of outlandish talent that Broadway used to harvest and write shows around; the sort of performer that has no better use for anyone but to be musical comedy star.

But that's not to say her few minutes on stage was the only dazzling moment of the talent-packed evening.  In an era where less-qualified performers take the above-the-title spot in many musicals, Scott Siegel regularly displays the abundance of talent that Broadway sadly underutilizes.

Take the charismatic baritone Marc Kudisch, for example, who regularly uses these concerts as opportunities to experiment and do the unexpected.  With music director Beth Ertz and her band, Kudisch accompanied himself on guitar for a rockabilly rendition of "Bless Your Beautiful Hide" from Seven Brides For Seven Brothers that could have been mistaken for a Carl Perkins classic.  Later, he followed with a more youthful and vigorous Tevye than most have seen contemplating, "If I Were A Rich Man."  It was a hearty, robust performance and a perfectly legitimate interpretation of the role.

Christina Bianco, a perky comic and impressionist who has done some stellar work in both Forbidden Broadway and Newsical, was also the recipient of roaring laughter and applause as she performed "Cabaret" as a succession of vocal divas, including Barbra Streisand, Bernadette Peters, Judy Garland, Patti LuPone, Julie Andrews, Celine Dion and, her showstopper, a remarkably accurate Kristin Chenoweth.

Bianco also had a charming duet of "Your Just In Love" with Scott Coulter, who earlier in the evening presented a stunningly delicate "The Sound of Music" to a pin-drop attentive crowd.

I normally wouldn't mention that Tom Wopat, one of the truly terrific saloon singers we still have around, went up on the lyrics of "The Best Is Yet To Come" a couple of times, but his self-effacing humor in dealing with the situation was so warm and enjoyable that he turned his troubles into a memorable moment, like his perfectly phrased unamplified performance of "Send In The Clowns."

The delightful Eddie Korbich celebrated the most recent victory for marriage equality by tweaking one of Sheldon Harnick's "I Love A Cop" lyrics to, "I can see how far this will carry  him / And we live in New York State, I can marry him."  His lovely "So In Love' was performed unamplified.  The evening's director, the versatile Alexander Gemignani, opened the show with a funny/nerdy "She Loves Me" that was full of quirky textures and then toned it down for a simple and sincere "Not While I'm Around."  Likewise, Stephanie Umoh displayed a comical side with "A Lovely Day To Be Out of Jail" and more intense dramatics with "Easy As Life."

Special guest Larry Gatlin recalled his stint in The Will Rogers Follies with "Look Around" and then tipped his hat to Gemignani, who played Jean Valjean in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables, before a soft and tender "Bring Him Home."

In anticipation of tonight's 5th annual Broadway's Rising Stars concert, the evening also included appearances from talented performers from past editions, whose careers are still works in progress:  Dara Hartman ("My Funny Valentine"), Joshua Isaacs ("Finishing The Hat"), Kristin Dausch ("The Music That Makes Me Dance" unamplified) and Jon Fletcher ("Why, God, Why?")

Photos by Stephen Sorokoff:  Top: Oakley Boycott; Bottom: Scott Coulter & Christina Bianco.


Those who only know Arthur Laurents as the bookwriter for two of Broadway's greatest musicals would be fascinated to read how, as author Bob Herzberg describes it, the young playwright's drama, Home of The Brave, which opened in December of 1945, was Broadway's first post-war production to criticize institutionalized bigotry in the United States military.

As an American Jew, Laurents' story was based on the anti-Semitism he encountered while serving as a soldier.  Despite its brief run of 69 performances, the play won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the film rights were quickly snagged by Stanley Kramer.

However, since Hollywood had already seen a pair of recent features about anti-Semitism, Kramer decided to turn the protagonist from Jewish to black, despite the fact the United States military was racially segregated during the war and the events of the play, as replicated for the film, could not have possibly happened to a black man.

The primary focus of Herzberg's book, The Left Side of the Screen, is an exploration of Hollywood's handling of communist and left-wing ideology from the days of the first talkies into the first decade of the 21th Century.  But a good deal of that exploration has to do with the freedom playwrights had to be critical of the government on Broadway, which, if a play was adapted into a film at all, was tempered by the film industry into expressions that would be considered more in the national public's comfort zone.

The book describes how, Clifford Odets, a registered member of the Communist Party, followed the success of the pro-Marxist Awake and Sing! with a little-known piece, Til The Day I Die.  Set in 1935 Berlin, the play featured Elia Kazan as a sympathetic Communist agitator and Lee J. Cobb as a Nazi police detective.  With snippets of dialogue that seem almost laughable today, Herzberg demonstrates how Odets' condemnation of the Nazi system included heavy implications that two Nazi officers are gay.  ("Hitler is lonely, too," one says to comfort the other.)

Arthur Miller plays, and their subsequent film versions, like All My Sons and A View From The Bridge are examined in their own political and social contexts, as well as the works of artists who were brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

If you're like Sally Bowles and politics bores you, keep in mind that Herzberg's entertaining writing style, while packed with details, is light and conversational, sometimes sarcastic and strongly opinionated, making it a fun and informative read for both nights in dimly lit literary watering holes and sunny afternoons lounging at Brighton Beach.

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Posted on: Monday, July 18, 2011 @ 01:38 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

Hair: Summer Lovin'

"That's me up there," said the gentleman sitting to my right at Tuesday night's performance of Hair when I ask him at intermission if he was having a good time.

I knew his response would be positive, as I could hear him obviously being moved by the production during the first act.  He was a big guy, strong, maybe in his early 60s wearing a Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and sporting a crew cut.  To look at him you might think he was a retired cop or a Vietnam vet.  For all I know, maybe he was.  But in row K of the St. James Theatre there was a rush of memories passing through him of his youthful days as a hippie.

"That was my life in those days.  The music, the clothes, peace and love.  I wouldn't change a bit of it.  Not one bit."

Over forty years after its premiere as the first production in Joseph Papp's Public Theatre, not all of Hair goes down well with contemporary audiences.  There's the positive and sometimes comical depiction of casual drug use and the strong suggestion of unprotected sex with multiple partners, not to mention the reality that many of the characters seemed to be in no hurry to get jobs, living off their parents while denouncing the morals they stand for.  But what the fellow sitting next to me saw most of all was the supportive community of friends that these youngsters had formed.

"My kids are great," he told me, "but I feel sorry for them.  They sit at their computers all day.  When I was that age I went out and I met other kids.  We shared our music, our ideas, we cared about each other.  That's what this show is all about."

That sense of a supportive community wasn't always a part of Hair, which went through wholesale changes between its successful, but not earth-shattering original run at The Public and its nearly unthinkable Broadway success.  Bookwriter/lyricists Gerome Ragni and James Rado were a couple of struggling New York actors who saw the flower power movement as a juicy subject for a musical where they could write leading roles for themselves.  Ragni was Berger, a cocky, sexually charged high school student and de facto leader of a tribe of Manhattan hippies and Rado was his newly-drafted buddy Claude, who couldn't decide if he should join his friends in burning their draft cards and, if necessary, fleeing to Canada, or comply with his parents' wishes that he go fight in Vietnam for his country.

Galt MacDermot, a clean-cut suburban dad, composed a score that fused rock with funk, rockabilly and showtune, but the show never jelled until the genius downtown experimental theatre director, Tom O'Horgan, was brought in.  At O'Horgan's insistence, chunks of the already thin book were removed and new songs were added, but most importantly, he had the actors think of the characters they were playing as a tribe of outcasts, born from the generation of Americans that won World War II and rebelling against being drafted into a new war.  They bonded through a mutual need for breaking conventions through anarchy, which was expressed on stage through comic vaudevilles mimicking Marx Brothers irreverence (Is is any wonder that, before the age of home videos, the late 60s saw a renewed interest in the films of the Marx Brothers?) and songs that flippantly expressed then-shocking sentiments like, "Black boys are delicious," "Masturbation can be fun," and the positively brilliant, "Answer my weary query, Timothy Leary, dearie."

With a score that frequently hits gorgeous peaks (the mystically moody "Aquarius," the softly whimsical "Good Morning, Starshine," the merrily mod "Manchester, England," the grimly poetic "The Flesh Failures (Let The Sun Shine In)" the plaintive "Where Do I Go?," and the celebratory title song) Hair can easily slip into being treated as a concert with a slight narrative, but director Diane Paulus, who assembled the text for this production from its various developmental stages, emphasizes that sense of community in both its positive and flawed aspects.  When political activist Sheila, the only character who is actually working to improve the world and make a future for herself, sings "Easy To Be Hard," the lyric illuminates how many of her friends can mindlessly chant for peace and love without truly understanding their responsibility to themselves and those around them.

When this production originated in Central Park, and then initially moved to Broadway, Paulus had the advantage of working with seasoned musical theatre actors who not only sang the score beautifully and expressively, but had the serious acting chops to truly delve into the material and bring out unwritten details.  Now, the national tour of Hair settles into the St. James for a summer stopover, with a smaller, easier-to-travel version of Scott Pask's scaffold set and a company made up of both newcomers and understudies graduating to leading roles.  While the new cast is energetic and enthused, there are a few pitfalls.

Several of the performers spoke a good deal of their lyrics on Tuesday night, a sure sign of vocal fatigue, while others strained for high notes.  There were the occasional lapses into contemporary singing styles, particularly when Kaitlin Kiyan power belted "Frank Mills," sapping the simple ballad of its naiveté.  There is less acting this time around and more performing.

But the material is stellar and Paulus' smart staging keeps the trouble spots in check.  Steel Berkhardt makes for a funny; sexually free Berger and Paris Remillard counters with a sweet and empathetic Claude.  Phyre Hawkins gets the show off to an enchanting start as she leads the tribe in "Aquarius" and Darrius Nichols scores in both humor and funk as Hud, the black guy who loves making white people uncomfortable.  The most interesting of the bunch is Caren Lyn Tackett, who strikes the balance between activist Sheila's serious commitment to human rights and her phantasmagoric belief in the mind's spiritual power to levitate The Pentagon.

If Hair returns with the faint whiff of summer stock in the air, it's still a heck of a fun party with a poignant kick-in-the-gut finish.  Just ask my seat-neighbor, who I last saw joyously dancing on stage at the finale, no doubt with a heart full of memories of summers of love.

Photos by Joan Marcus.

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Posted on: Thursday, July 14, 2011 @ 05:54 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

Silence! The Musical

When Silence! The Musical made its debut at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 2005 as part of the New York International Fringe Festival it was a completely sold out in advance smash hit run even before one note had been played before a paying audience.  Perhaps there were some who were attracted to the idea of a musical spoof of the Oscar-winning film, The Silence of the Lambs, but most of the early buzz was a direct result of composer/lyricists Jon and Al Kaplan's shrewd use of the internet.

Over two years before anyone thought the story of FBI trainee Clarice Starling's uneasy partnership with imprisoned cannibal/murderer Hannibal Lecter, who helps her capture a serial killer with a preference for plus-sized female victims, would ever make it to the song-and-dance stage, the brothers began offering free CDs of their score from the unproduced show's official web site, which also included audio clips to songs like "If I Could Smell Her Cunt" and "Put The Fucking Lotion In The Basket."  By the time the show was announced for the Fringe, with a book by Hunter Bell and direction and choreography by Christopher Gattelli, it had already gathered a solid fan base.

Silence! returns to New York, now in an Off-Broadway production still helmed by Gattelli, which, despite some tinkering, very closely resembles its Fringe predecessor.  But the context of being a commercial Off-Broadway production, as opposed to being one of dozens thrown at the public with very little preparation during a brief festival, perhaps obligates the show to be more inspired than what's currently housed at Theatre 80 St. Marks.  Those "we have a very small budget so we have to get creative" laughs don't go over as well when patrons are paying Off-Broadway prices.

Over-stretched into two acts from its previous ninety-minute incarnation, Silence! still offers a good deal of a fun, mindless parody and outrageously distasteful songs, though Bell's book stays so closely chained to the film that a refresher screening might be in order before you can truly appreciate the details.

The Kaplans have come up with a lively collection of catchy tunes, but the score is at its best when the lyrics are at their most scatological. Words that some may find objectionable are used selectively for the best comic punch. The previously mentioned "If I Could Smell Her Cunt," the first solo for Lecter, is a fine character introduction song, romantically expressing the lonely prisoner's desire for the slightest bit of connection with another human being.  Broadway leading man Brent Barrett sinks his rich baritone and icy glare into the number and gets comic mileage by playing it straight.  The number is followed by a dream ballet pas de deux, the running gag of which is when Ashlee Dupre keeps placing the epicenter of her multiple splits in the vicinity of Callan Bergmann's nose.

Stephen Bienskie plays up the campiness as he repeats his fringe role as pre-op transsexual serial killer, Buffalo Bill.  As he admires his own female appearance the Kaplans provide a fun number where he sings of a sex act he'd like to do to himself with a lyric continually repeating the word in a variety of contexts. It's not the word that's funny, but the complexity of its repetition.

While the evening sputters a bit between the solid laughs, the musical always seems in top form when leading lady Jenn Harris is on stage in the Jodie Foster role of Clarice.  Shortly before creating the role in the Fringe production, Harris was an unknown who made a smashing Off-Broadway debut, squeezing out tremendous laughs and completely stealing the show in a small supporting role in Modern Orthodox.  Sadly, she has not been very visible on the New York stage between productions of Silence!, as she is a remarkably intelligent and creative comic talent.

More than just impersonating Foster, she finds the precise degree of overplaying her underplaying to maximize laughs without sacrificing character.  As a quiet, serious-minded young woman with a pronounced lisp, the joke of the performance is how inappropriate her character is to be the star of a musical. When she struts around like Chita Rivera in a hot Fosse-ish dance number, surrounded by derby-clad lamb chorus boys, she's still the quiet, serious-minded, lisping heroine, suddenly empowered with a Broadway belt that, if not exactly artful, is still loud and clear.

Six years after its premiere, Jenn Harris remains the primary reason to see Silence!  Hopefully, when this limited run is completed, there'll be more opportunities to see her in material that's more consistently worthy.

Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Brent Barrett and Jenn Harris; Bottom: Jeff Hiller, Harry Bouvy, Jenn Harris and Howard Kaye.

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Posted on: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 @ 09:51 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

Voca People: White Noise

They look a little like Blue Man Group, they sound a little like Toxic Audio and they talk a lot like Andy Kaufman and Carol Kane playing Latka and Simka on Taxi, but while Voca People might give the appearance of being a bit too tourist trappy for we jaded New York theatre types, it's the kind of family friendly, good clean fun that's legitimately clever, catchly and often downright adorable.

I'll admit I didn't think it was going to be my kind of thing when I first read creator/director Lior Kalfo's  premise concerning a white-clad octet of a cappella singing aliens from the planet Voca (Soprana, Mezzo, Alta, Tenoro, Bari-Tone and Tubas, along with Commander Beat On, who mimics boom-box beats, and Deputy Scratcher, who vocalizes vinyl scratches) who land on Earth needing to musically refuel their spaceship by absorbing the musical knowledge of humans, but the briskly played ninety minutes features lively, sometimes unexpectedly complex arrangements by Shai Fishman, funny staging by Kalfo and a highly charismatic group of comedian singers who not only sizzle in harmony, but who each create distinctly humorous personalities using broken English and Voca gibberish.

The higher-ups seem determined not to let us know who exactly plays what part but the names of the ten performers billed (I'm guessing two are alternates) are Ryan Alexander, Mercer Boffey, Laura Dadap, Emily Drennan, Tiago Grade, Chelsey Keding, Jermaine Miles, Christine Paterson, Gavriel Savit and Jonathan Shew.

There is a ton of audience participation that singles out certain spectators, so avoid the aisles and especially the front row if you're not into it.  Mostly it involves performers placing their hands on the sculls of visitors to intake the music within them.  Once they've powered up their first supply they offer a quick history of Earth music, which includes snippets of Handel, Scott Joplin, Irving Berlin, The Beatles, Little Richard, Michael Jackson, Madonna and many more.  A movie music medley has them miming moments from the Pink Panther series, The Godfather, Mission Impossible, Titanic and the James Bond collection.

For classical music fans there are selections from Carmen, The Marriage of Figaro and a wild rendering of Flight of The Bumblebee.

One lucky gal gets brought up on stage to be serenaded in a romantic pop medley by the guys.  The jealous Voca women then bring three men up to seduce.  This segment has a couple of slightly naughty moments but nothing that will emotionally scar the kiddies for life.  In fact, the kids will have a blast at this one, as well as the adults.

Just two little quibbles:  A) No matter how charming you are I will not clap along to anyone's chorus of "We Are The World."  B)  When you're in the theatre district and you want to sing a song about New York, it's best to stick to the one by Kander & Ebb.  With the lyrics Liza sings, thank you very much.

Photos by Leon Sokoletski.

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Posted on: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 @ 03:34 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

Master Class

No, Tyne Daly is not a name that might immediately come to mind when casting the role of aristocratic Greek opera diva Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's Master Class, but in some ways she's a head-smackingly logical choice.  While the play is generally associated with great divas of the stage (Zoe Caldwell, Patti LuPone), screen (Faye Dunaway) or cabaret rooms (Dixie Carter), Daly, an actress known primarily for playing earthy, working class survivors, seems quite at home in her portrayal of a woman who was raised simply in Astoria before the split-up of her parents sent her to live in near-poverty with her mother in Axis-occupied Greece.

Set in 1971, six years after Callas had retired from the opera stage with her voice reduced to shreds by a shortened career of ferociously acted performances, McNally places the audience in a Julliard auditorium where the great dramatic soprano taught a series of master classes.  Individual students would take turns on stage having their talents placed under a microscope by the critically caustic instructor while hundreds of young hopefuls (us) would quietly observe.

It's a portrait of an unmatched talent ("How can you have rivals when no one can do what you do?") who no longer possesses the outlet for her greatness, and while, under Stephen Wadsworth's direction, Daly delivers the requisite confident haughtiness while the character tries to share the wealth of her experience ("Look at me, I'm drinking water and I have presence."), the wealth of her performance comes as she communicates the woman's loneliness and confusion as she tries to find her new role in life.  She's not a very good teacher ("You don't have a look.  Get one.") and despite her insistence that, "This is not about me," she cannot help turning each lesson into a reminder of her own accomplishments.  McNally has Callas figuratively pulling off the old vaudeville gag where the comic puts up one hand to modestly stop the audience from applauding while waving the other hand to encourage them to keep clapping and Daly makes the trick a sad, empathetic gesture.  Her power is regained by two internal monologues; one describing a past triumph at La Scala and another remembering her tempestuous relationship with Aristotle Onassis.

Her students include Alexandra Silber, as the little lamb with no realistic sense of her own ability ("I'm very fiery," she eagerly explains.), and Garrett Sorenson, as the charismatic tenor whose hero is Mario Lanza.  Both are classical singers making their stage acting debuts in this production, which has transferred to Broadway from a successful Kennedy Center run.  And while both are fine, they're pretty much skimming the surface of their characters, but Sorenson scores big when his rendering of Cavaradossi's aria from Tosca leaves the teacher speechless and the audience cheering.

Sierra Boggess makes a terrific transition as the student who is initially so rattled by Callas' criticism that it sends her offstage to vomit, but who returns in a fit of determination and uses her disgust for the teacher's cruel methods to fuel her performance as Lady Macbeth.

Jeremy Cohen, as the quiet accompanist, and Clinton Brandhagen, as the slow, but genial stagehand, each make fine contributions.

The sad reality of Broadway is that, because this is a limited run that will close long before the season's finish, it's unlikely this production will be up for any Tony Awards.  But Tyne Daly's performance in this sturdy mounting is certainly bound to be one of the highlights of the season.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Tyne Daly; Bottom: Sierra Boggess and Tyne Daly.


Though a certain Lincoln Center concert production of a Stephen Sondheim musical made theatre headlines last season, the musical-in-concert that sent me humming across the fountain plaza was The Collegiate Chorale and American Symphony Orchestra's extremely enjoyable presentation of composer Kurt Weill and bookwriter/lyricist Maxwell Anderson's 1938 political spoof, Knickerbocker Holiday.  Happily, this concert - which starred Victor Garber and Kelli O'Hara and featured Broadway favorites like Christopher Fitzgerald, David Garrison, Brooks Ashmanskas, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Michael McCormick and Brad Oscar - has been preserved in recording, live from Alice Tully Hall, by Ghostlight Records.

Under James Bagwell's baton, the recording offers a rare opportunity to hear, in its entirety, a fascinating transitional score by Weill, which hints at his Weimar roots as he adapts to a brighter Broadway sound.  Anderson's book tells a story involving Peter Stuyvesant's arrival in New Amsterdam, but his satirical target was actually FDR and The New Deal.  Good chunks of the book are heard on the recording, allowing for the songs to be heard in their proper context.

The classic from the score is, of course, "September Song," and Garber's soft and soothing timbre, matched with exquisite sincerity, make it a truly memorable interpretation.  O'Hara's shimmering vocals are matched with robust baritone Ben Davis for the show's other standard, the heartbreaking, "It Never Was You."  Other highlights include the jaunty and exceedingly hummable, "How Can You Tell An American," where Anderson defines the character of the fledgling country as the inability to take orders from another, and Bryce Pinkham's charming spoken and sung narrative as Washington Irving.

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Posted on: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 @ 01:12 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 7/10 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being."

-- Oscar Wilde

The grosses are out for the week ending 7/10/2011 and we've got them all right here in's grosses section.



Posted on: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 @ 12:49 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

Measure For Measure: Nasty Habits

Former 90s club kids nostalgic for theme nights at Limelight should get a kick out of director David Esbjornson's frequently flashy and enjoyable mounting of Shakespeare's Measure For Measure; a production where, under a simple, but austere cathedral-like setting, the antics straddle the line between the play's original early 1600s Viennese setting and a more contemporary techno-fetish club.

This is Part II of Shakespeare in the Park's summer of comedies about unlikeable people doing unattractive things that result in "happy endings" where characters are forced into unwanted marriages.  Whereas Daniel Sullivan's staging of All's Well That Ends Well, smoothes out the unpleasantness with light comedy and the final traces of Edwardian elegance, here the director teases us with a concept that looks like we'll be having some fun digging into hedonistic subtext.  But gradually the concept seems tossed and we're left with a main plot played well, but rather conventionally, while the subplot comics are having a bawdy ball.

Shakespeare's text begins with Vincentio (Lorenzo Pisoni), Duke of the plague-ravaged city, deciding to take some extended time off and place governing in the hands of his strict moralist deputy, Angelo (Michael Hayden).  He is to be assisted by the ancient Lord Escalus (a fine John Cullum in a thankless role).  But before that occurs, Esbjornson creates a nightmarish motivation.  As a fog of smoke approaches the bed placed center stage, actors appear wearing black, skin-tight devil costumes.  One of the emotionless demons rips off the bed sheet to reveal an orgy of tangled, decaying bodies atop the horrified Duke.  This dream could suggest a guilty conscious or dark longings, but the reason for the prologue is unclear because even though the demons do appear again, it's in no direct association with Vincentio.  By the second act they seem to have been forgotten until the company takes bows to a certain Rolling Stones hit that suggests their inclusion was part of a major theme.

In any case, Angelo believes it's the loose morals of the city that has sent the plague and orders a crackdown on any form of vice, which includes enforcing a commonly ignored law forbidding sex outside of marriage.  When Claudio (Andre Holland) gets sentenced to death for getting his fiancé Juliet (Kristen Connolly) pregnant, his sister Isabella (Danai Gurira), who is about to enter a nunnery, pleads for his mercy.

Angelo, who was engaged to be married until his bride-to-be's dowry was lost, probably hasn't enjoyed pleasures of the flesh in quite some time and offers to allow Claudio to live in exchange for Isabella's virginity, knowing her word would never be believed against his if she accuses him of immorality.  Meanwhile Vincentio, disguised as a friar, has not only gotten himself involved but has developed an attraction to Isabella himself, and plots to assist her as a means of winning her.

Hayden does a fine job of being subtly authoritative and Gurira skillfully plays Isabella's conflicted soul as she tries to defend herself against an immoral act by committing one herself.  Esbjornson, however, has Pisoni playing Vincentio as being boyishly charming and merry, a confusingly uncomplicated choice, considering the way the production began.

The comical denizens of Mistress Overdone's bawdy house appear more contemporary in manner than the main players and Elizabeth Hope Clancy dresses them in costumes that do indeed look like costumes.  As the broadly played proprietress, the absurdly wigged and gowned Tonya Pinkins can pass as a female impersonator.  Carson Elrod has a puckish charm playing the pimp Pompey with a punk rocker attitude and does a terrific job in a scene where he does some extended playing with the audience.  Reg Rogers, as usual, also gives a funny turn as the sleazy sad sack, Lucio.

Photos by Joan Marcus:  Top: Danai Gurira and Michael Hayden; Bottom: Tonya Pinkins and Carson Elrod.

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Posted on: Wednesday, July 06, 2011 @ 05:53 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback

Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 7/3 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"After they had explored all the suns in the universe, and all the planets of all the suns, they realized there was no other life in the universe, and that they were alone. And they were very happy, because then they knew it was up to them to become all the things they had imagined they would find."

-- Lanford Wilson


The grosses are out for the week ending 7/3/2011 and we've got them all right here in's grosses section.



Posted on: Tuesday, July 05, 2011 @ 04:53 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'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.