According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"The Revenger's Tragedy" by Aaron Riccio

There’s so much bounce to the blood-letting that it’s positively upbeat: a farce of a tragedy, really, or perhaps just a literal revenge against the formulaic tragedies.

The Revenger’s Tragedy is Hamlet without the whining. It’s just as poetic, just as full of asides and oddly accented syllables, but straight to the point. No solipsistic soliloquies, just good old bloody fun, eyeballs and all. It’s a brilliant adaptation, nothing less than innovative, and director Jesse Berger (on behalf of his Red Bull Theater) has one more notch in his classical belt.

Here’s how the blood gets flowing: Vindice, our “noble” revenger, disguises himself as a slave, Piato, in order to infiltrate the Duke’s home. He is swiftly contracted to procure the virgin whom Lussurioso, the Duke’s heir, lusts for. Because it’s a comedy, that virtuous woman is Vindice’s sister, Castiza, and the ultimate corruptor, once bribed, is his mother, Gratiana. Even as characters are beheaded and eviscerated, the farce continues: Vindice, as himself, is hired to kill Piato, and at one point is forced to recycle a previous corpse to carry out the façade. The cyclical and meticulous nature of the plotting is melodious, full of unyielding twists and clever ironies and comedic even at its most vile. There’s so much bounce to the blood-letting that it’s positively upbeat: a farce of a tragedy, really, or perhaps just a literal revenge against the formulaic tragedies.

The plot is simple and complex: simple because everybody is their most animalistic (killing or fucking, or both); complex because of all the various scheming going on. It’s not a problem for Berger though: his direction bridges all the chaos, even as scenes collide into each other (the scene changes literally overlap). In this hyperventilating style (never a wasted breath), The Revenger’s Tragedy opens with a choreographed rape, glorious and debauched, with a touch of the Greek chorus thrown in (the players are all masked: the anonymity is sinister). Even as it catapults from there through intrigue and emphatic lust (heads shoved into crotches for punctuation), Berger makes sure the inevitable bloodbath is just as bacchanalian as the constant sexual tension.

The visuals are also very appealing: the minimalist stage plunges far back, and uses every inch for effect. The set itself, made to appear unfinished, focuses attention on the actors and wardrobe (a fetishistic affair of color-coordinated rubber, fur and leather). Up close, the makeup’s a little too much, but on the whole, coupled with the use of modern dance and a sparsely used fusion of background music, the show comes off as trendy and slick.

What’s more, Jesse Berger has directed this as a traditional Jacobean play: actors gleefully ignore the fourth-wall and tempt the audience to sin. This has the double benefit of justifying some of the more cartoonish acting, which now gets by on pure verve. It’s an unnecessary safety: Matthew Rauch (Vindice) and Marc Vietor (Lussurioso) give such impassioned performances, they liven even the ostentatiously poor actors (like Petronia Paley). Rauch lends credibility to his mass-murders and is elegant, if not beatific, in his actions. Vietor’s self-obsession, down to the most nuanced mannerisms, is an exercise in adoration and guilty pleasure. And also of note: Daniel Talbott and Ryan Farley, who play the two younger, scheming, heirs to the throne, Ambitioso and Supervacuo. Think the Three (Two) Stooges, or at least what Larry, Curly and Moe might look like if they dressed like Goths, really tried to kill one another, and were still funny about it.

Yes, that’s right. Revenge, along with all the tongue-tripping fun of the 17th century English plays, is suddenly hip again over at The Culture Project: it’s good to be bad.

45 Below (Red Bull Theater @ The Culture Project): 45 Bleecker Street
Tickets: $15 (212-239-6200)
Performances (Closes 12/18): Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00; other dates vary

Thursday, November 24, 2005

"La Boheme" (MET), By Matt Windman

Before Roger, Mark, Collin, Maureen, and the Life Café hit Broadway and now the big screen; Rodolfo, Marcello, Colline, Musetta, and the Café Momus ruled the opera stage for a full century.

“Rent” is in fact an updated version of “La Boheme,” Puccini’s 1896 opera of romance dipped in tragedy, theatricality, and symphonic musicality. Though a Broadway mounting directed by Baz Luhrmann three years ago lasted only six months, the work is still presented annually by the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera.

Just as “Rent” is considered by many to be the epitome of contemporary, rock music-oriented musical theater, “La Boheme” allowed Puccini to be finally viewed in Europe as the long-awaited successor Verdi and new voice of Italian music. Though Jonathan Larson tragically died the night before the first “Rent” preview, Puccini went on to write “Tosca” and “Madama Butterfly.”

The current MET production, which will be presented tomorrow night in addition to upcoming dates in December, is a revival of a spectacular, time-tested vision by auteur Franco Zeffirelli. Chock full of realistic set designs, falling snow, and an unbelievably detailed crowd scene in Act Two, “La Boheme” offers entrance to the original Bohemia, presented as an unbelievable, lost world filled with passionate, heartfelt artists.

Though seeing a show in Italian with subtitles can be shocking for perhaps a teenager weaned on “Rent” and “Wicked,” the experience of something completely different like this will still register as a momentous experience. MET prices can be as steep as $220, but student tickets are available at $25, and general standing tickets go as low as $16.

Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, between West 62nd and 65th Streets at Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, tickets start at $16, Sat 8pm.

Abigails Party

The exquisite set and hospitable lighting are not the only things captivating audiences at the Acorn Theater on Theater Row. Abigail’s Party revolves around Laurence and Beverly, who are hosting a “get to know you” get together for their new neighbors Tony and Angela. Also in attendance is their neighbor Susan, whose daughter, Abigail, is also having a party. The well written comedy boasts aggressive characters and strong personalities which make for an exciting and humorous night at the theater. Jennifer Jason Leigh stars as Beverly, whose loud attitude, and pushy and belittling demeanor, creates constant conflict and amusing anecdotes which keeps the play moving forward at a quick pace. Overall, a very enjoyable play that kept the audience laughing and entertained.

The New Group presents
Abigail's Party
The Acorn Theater
410 W 42nd street between 9th and 10th ave, Theater Row

Monday, November 21, 2005

"Seascape" by Aaron Riccio

Seascape is a fantastical forum, where whimsy and humor cannot forever hide the subterranean truth of man’s nature.

[This was reviewed on the final night of previews: It is possible the entire show will have changed by the 11/21 premiere. Just not likely.]

Charles and Nancy are old-fashioned grandparents (gentlepeople, for lack of a better word). They’re direct and sensitive and devoid of the bitterly trenchant wit that might be found in other Albee plays: likeable, without any hesitation or guilt. Leslie and Sarah are young, fertile, reckless and dangerous. They are, without a doubt, carpe-ing their diem. Nancy, who fears her time is running short, is envious and desperate of this other couple; Charles dreams of sinking to the bottom of the sea, he’s done enough. And Leslie and Sarah are both great green Gila-monsters that have crawled out of the sea. Welcome to Lincoln Center’s revival of Edward Albee’s 1974 Pulitzer-winning Seascape.

This is a pretty big cultural divide, to say the least, and the only thing Albee gives them in common is his trademark wit and intelligence. Despite the unnatural circumstance, their verbal sparring is quite natural and keeps us from questioning the surreal. It’s didactic symbolism, not deus ex machina, and the absurdity gives the playwright license to pull the gloves off (though it’s still a light touch). Seascape is a fantastical forum, where whimsy and humor cannot forever hide the subterranean truth of man’s nature.

Frances Sternhagen (Nancy) is a gem, and she either has magnificent chemistry with George Grizzard (Charlie) or she’s that good of an actress—I’ve never seen such a loving relationship onstage. With a lyrical voice, she flirts with language and cavorts across the full gamut of emotion as both the strong matriarch and supportive housewife. Meanwhile, Grizzard is a perfect counterbalance, sedentary and staccato with his one-liners, almost as if hibernating. Frederick Weller and Elizabeth Marvel, unfortunately, get sacrificed to Plot. Seascape uses the monster stereotype with Leslie (menacing and naïve), and Weller can’t avoid sounding like a petulant eight-year-old. Marvel gets slightly better treatment, but still comes across more as effect than a character. Still, as tangible obstacles, both actors throw themselves into the role (literally), crawling across the beautiful sand dunes and crags of the beachside set.

The acts themselves are aesthetically pleasing too; each seems to explore either Charlie or Nancy’s perspective. In the first, Charlie’s, arguments range from the theoretical necessity of liver paste at the beach (for if the roasted chicken falls into the sand) to the use of past tense (and never has so much attention been correctly drawn to the hopefully inaccurate statement “you’ve had a good life”). It lazily meanders through a quiet and contemplative expanse filled mostly of imagery and recollection. In the second, Nancy’s, the lizard-people provide a physical pivot, lots of sight gags, and the uneasy humor­ of violent comedy. It’s immediate and far more riveting, and yet the first act, more subtle and poignant, really captures the heart and soul of a time-worn relationship. And in either case, terse Albee-ian rhythms and bravura performances keep the whole thing ticking, unhinged only in the last few moments.

Startling, lucid and entertaining, Seascape is a multi-faceted look at two couples coming to terms with their own mortality and existence. Whether or not you like the liberal use of lizards, these are Big (and unsettling) Ideas, presented with flawless comic timing and personable characters, and it’s one of Albee’s best.

Booth Theater (222 West 45th Street)
Tickets: $80-85 (212-239-6200)
Performances: Tuesday-Saturday @ 8:00; Wednesday/Saturday @ 2:00; Sunday @ 3:00

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Ark, by Matt Windman

Note: Following its opening last Monday night, the new musical “The Ark” at 37 Arts unexpectedly closed on Sunday, November 20.

This Off-Broadway musical would work best as cheesy Sunday school entertainment for children at a bible-themed amusement park. Compared to other flawed Noah musicals like “Children of Eden” and “Two by Two,” "The Ark" easily manages to seem the lesser of the three. Michael McLean and Kevin Kelly’s songs are non-dramatic, corny, and ineffective. Here is a sample lyric: “I hate the rain, it’s driving me insane.”

The audience is addressed by the cast as if we are the animals onboard the ark. The first minute of the show has a delightful, captivating quality as Adrian Zmed recognizes us. But as soon as the music begins to blast and the hollow one-liners fire at us, the ship begins to leak and keeps on sinking.

The show’s religious ideology is so sentimental that it becomes a burden; Noah’s troublesome child, for example, breaks down crying at his father’s feet upon accepting God. The set looks as if it came out of Disney World’s Frontier Land, the lighting is harsh, and the costumes are of a Halloween party quality. And though the eight-person ensemble cast is talented, this ark cannot last 40 days and 40 nights.

37 Arts Theatre, 450 West 37th Street, 212-307-4100, $66.25. Fri 8pm, Sat 2 & 8pm, Sun 2 & 7pm.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Review: THE ARK by Rachel Maier

I saw The Ark on Wednesday night at the 37 Arts Theater. The women in the show were extremely strong, and the most memorable numbers were in fact the ones sung by the women. Marie-France Arcilla sang a rousing gospel song and was one of the, if not the strongest in the cast. The show as a whole was entertaining and enjoyable, but unfortunatly did not leave me humming the score as I left the theater.

Review: Waiting for Godot
by Matt Windman

Beckett's modern theater of metaphor continues to resonate into the twenty-first century.

Read full review:
Billed as a 50th anniversary revival, this intimate revival at St. Clement’s Church lacks the fanfare of Mike Nichol’s Lincoln Center production with Steve Martin and Robin Williams in 1988 or even the Classic Stage revival with Christopher Lloyd. The estate of Samuel Beckett, which is notorious for refusing to allow changes to the play’s text, cast of all males, or setting, would probably approve of newcomer Alan Hruska’s very straightforward, surface-oriented direction.

The humor of the play has been neglected, but the melancholy of the play is highlighted significantly through an outstanding ensemble cast led by Sam Coppola. On a bare stage with only the classic tree, complimented by a light sky cyclorama, Beckett's modern theater of metaphor continues to resonate into the twenty-first century.

At Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street, 212-239-6200, $55. Fri 8pm, Sat 2:30 & 8pm, Sun 3pm.

"Just Happy to Be Here?" and "Skinpoppin", Review by Elizabeth Devlin

Two actors highlight their unique talents in two one-man shows that attack large themes and successfully address them through individual stories in “Just Happy to Be Here?” and “Skinpoppin.,” a double bill produced by ArchProductions and DramaHouse Entertainment, which runs this weekend.

The first piece, “Just Happy to Be Here?” sets the audience up as students observing a psychological study of the effect of 9/11 on African-American males. As the writer and performer, Damien D. Smith’s portrayal of 5 diverse characters, each his own energy and purpose, is a delight to watch. Each character has a sense of urgency, a combination of the nervousness about their pysch-study participation and the desire each character has to tell his story. Damien D. Smith’s ability to transform from one character to another is impressive and evocative of Anna Deveare Smith’s work “Twilight: Los Angeles” in its honest treatment of each character, although it must be noted that Damien Smith’s characters are fictional.

“Skinpoppin”, a work both written and performed by Basil Scrivens, is a much darker work than “Just Happy…” and tells the story of Manchild Jones’ heroin addiction. The story of Skinpoppin is, sadly, less than shocking: a cycle of addiction in a family and in society. Scrivens takes an innovative approach to the tale, however, interrupting the action at times with spoken word poetry and playing a fairly constant jazz-funk soundtrack in the background to evoke the 70’s heroin “shooting galleries” he grew up around. Manchild as a character has a very different energy than any of the characters in “Just Happy…” which provides the main distinction between the two pieces. Smith’s characters are excitable and come across with a sense of urgency; Scrivens’ Manchild lives an empty life and has nothing to be excited or urgent about. His senses have been numbed through two decades of heroin, and this numbness is thoroughly projected throughout the work.

Damien Smith and Basil Scrivens have created realistic and captivating pieces. Smith’s work speaks to a broad audience by questioning our preconceptions of African-American men and showing us that that group is too large and complex to pre-judge. Scrivens shows us in a stark and sometimes painful way the how life can come to mean little more than the next high- and how one can begin to find a way out of the numbness.

Just Happy to Be Here? and Skinpoppin runs
November 17-20 at 8pm and November 19 at 2pm at
The Michael Weller Theatre
311 West 43rd St. 6th Floor
(between 8th & 9th Avenues)
Tickets are $20.
Call 212.545.4127 for tickets and info

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Letter from Hannah Snyder-Beck
Re: The Ruby Sunrise

Dear Susan:

Did you take a look at the Times today? Front page of the arts section, a review of "Ruby Sunrise" by Charles Isherwood... I have to say, reading his review made me quite upset. There is such good work happening on that stage and to not have that recognized is mind boggling. There is so much crap out there that does not deserve rave reviews yet gets them anyway and then there's a show like "Ruby Sunrise" that comes along only so often that deserves as much praise as it can get, and it gets panned... It's the nature the biz, I suppose, but it's still infuriating.

Reading Isherwood's review made me realize how important it is for those of us just beginning our theater careers to have a voice (or, to at least try to have one).
Thank you for giving us the opportunity.


"Bartleby, the Scrivener" by Aaron Riccio

Adapting a novella for the stage presents many difficulties, but character should not be one of them. (Especially not with Herman Melville, a classic literary portraitist.) Perhaps the playwright, R.L. Lane, simply assumes we are all familiar with the subject material: Bartleby the Scrivener’s sad tale of Wall Street copyists in the mid-nineteenth century. Or perhaps he simply “prefers” the company of more definable characters: the bright and boisterous stereotypes of fellow clerks Turkey, Nippers and Ginger Nut. Either way, Standard, the chief scrivener (and the lead) winds up a mess, Bartleby steals the show, and the theatrical experience is riveting, if not exactly exhilarating.

Gerry Bamman (Standard) should have no trouble finding the subtle anguish of this role (he’s done Chekhov), and yet his character is static and inflexible. Overacting is an understatement here: the problem is that Bamman doesn’t seem to realize he’s playing two different roles. He is Standard the character and Standard the narrator: one must grow, and the other must speak from experience. Instead, Melville’s rich and tortured narrative rolls trippingly off the tongue only to fall flat on its face. The two Standards are so jumbled together, neither has impact, just the atonal pitch of melodrama.

Marco Quaglia, as Bartleby, is a captivating performer and one in complete control of his body. Be it his rigid posture, lethargic shuffle or downcast glare—he fills the stage with discomfort . . . and pleasure. As if he’s some sort of Elephant Man freak-show (there’s a role for Quaglia), the director, Alessandro Fabrizi, bruises him with the perfect blend of illumination and shadow. Then again, Fabrizi also stashes Bartleby behind a wall—this choice, after describing him as a living cadaver who haunts Standard, seems a bit naïve.

And yet, Lane and Fabrizi manage to capture the gloomy essence of Bartleby. Though this is a Cliff Notes version­—straight to the point, and even the stage is spare (but with good effect)—it works. Some scenes even justify what is otherwise a superfluous adaptation. Take for instance the office’s attempt to cheer up Bartleby: their efforts are at first individually comedic, but on the whole become forcefully awkward. They simply don’t understand the man: That’s the point. Fabrizi, who works beautifully with subtle and minimalist elements (note: the awful musical selections are neither), lets this failure linger in the air: a living, breathing, silence.

And while that moment may be repeated (milked is perhaps the word), it never quite becomes boring theater—though neither does it become great theater. No, what it may be, despite an antiquated feel, is real theater: touching yet not exciting, or (since that’s not wholly true) thrilling, but on another level. “Ah Bartleby! Ah Humanity!” That final haunting line is still a dagger to the heart.

Blue Heron Theater
123 East 24th Street
Tickets: $19.00 (212-868-4444)
Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00; Saturday @ 3:00 (Closing November 27th)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Review: "Bartleby the Scrivener"
by Evan Robert Pohl

"Bartleby the Scrivener," a prefer-ably delightful dramedy from playwright R.L. Lane, made its American debut last Sunday at the Blue Heron Theatre. Bartleby stars theatre vet Gerry Bamman, most notably remembered for his performance in "Nixon’s Nixon," and a host of unknowns including European import Marco Quaglia, making his first outing at the Blue Heron since 2004’s "The Waves."

The play, born first from the mind of Herman Melville then later adapted for the stage by Lane, owes its beating heart to the character of Bartleby, an anemic and soft spoken boy looking for work as a copyist on the streets of Manhattan’s Financial District during the mid-nineteenth century. Standard, a Wall Street attorney, consummate bachelor, played with acute precision by Bamman, welcomes the young man in with an open heart. Like a boy loves his pup, Standard adores Bartleby. Then, rather unexpectedly, the dog begins to bite the hand that feeds it. Climbing on furniture, staring at walls, convulsing uncontrollably—Bartleby abandons his copyist duties for more deviant acts, allowing the play to soar, unrestricted by its languorous beginnings, to grotesquely fascinating heights. More than a period piece, the play transcends history through its unique analysis of Standard’s unhealthy obsession with Bartleby.

Quaglia, though barely a handful of lines to his own, is a spellbinding force on stage and delivers a quiet, venerable Deppian performance; this continental actor is the prize of the litter. Bamman, with his wheels turning, by all accounts, churns out an enviable performance. Although handled with great care by director Alessandro Fabrizi, the rest of the cast can be forgotten, save for the delicious portrayal of imprisoned food aficionado “Grub Man,” played effortlessly by Robert Grossman. Even still, despite a few miscast actors, the billowing steam pumped out by the Bartleby engine is too loud to ignore. Rich in biblical overtones, and with sharp wit matching unnerving drama, "Bartleby the Scrivener" is sure to please those looking to be challenged.

The Blue Heron Theatre, 123 East 24th Street, November 3rd - 27th
For tickets call SmartTix (212)868-4444 or

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Review: "The Great American Trailer Park Musical"


Let’s be honest-- you know what you’re getting into with THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL. You have come to sit down with Derek McLane’s lovely pastel trailers and hear a drawling PA invite you to turn off your “big city cell phones.” You have come to laugh with (not at, we’re not that sort of people) the self-proclaimed white trash who populate Armidillo Acres, “Florida’s most exclusive trailer park community.” The show is a good-natured send up of how the other half lives-- that is to say, with an ample supply of one-liners, bad perms, and eye shadow.

We are introduced to the cast of characters via direct address by three Armadillo Acres women who make it their business to know everyone else’s-- they keep the plot clipping along, which is fortunate because it isn’t tremendously interesting. The show’s emotional center is in the love triangle among a beat-down working guy, his agoraphobic wife, and a pole-dancer who’s just looking for a nice guy. When it’s snarky, it’s funny, but when it becomes sentimental the songs slow down and the story draws closer to its inevitable lesson about self-worth and making it on one’s own.

Betty Kelso’s book, rampant with jokes which are fast and biting, frequently outshines David Nehls’s music and lyrics. After the rousing disco anthem “Storm’s A-Coming,” we are left with a conclusion heavy with straight-forward ballads reaching for an emotional payoff nobody came to a show called The Great American Trailer Park Musical to see.

Ultimately, the solid ensemble (with stand-out performances from Leslie Kritzer as a solemnly dim teenager and Wayne Wilcox as a jilted, marker-sniffing drifter) throws themselves into the world of Armadillo Acres with such force that it is difficult not to be carried along with them. It’s an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half, but one leaves the theater feeling like she’s just eaten a fried Twinkie-- the satisfaction is real, but it’s a little guilty and a lot fleeting.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical
Tickets: $55.00-$75.00
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday @ 8pm, Saturday @ 2pm & 8pm, Sunday @ 3pm & 7pm
Dodger Stages / Stage 1340
West 50th Street Between 8th and 9th Avenues
New York NY 10019

Monday, November 14, 2005

Review: "The Great American Trailer Park Musical"
by: Dane Harrington Joseph

.....if you’re in the mood for a fun show with a top-rate cast
(which receives standing ovations every night), take a trip over
to the Trailer Park and have yourself a good ole’ time.

Read entire review: Lies. Deceit. Strippers. Agoraphobia. Flan. And that’s just in the first half of the hilarious Great American Trailer Park Musical now playing at Dodger Stages. The story takes place in Armadillo Acres, a trailer park, where a toll collector named Norbert (Shuler “Tony© winner” Hensley) whose rocky relationship with his agoraphobic wife Jeannie (Kaitlyn “Bat Boy” Hopkins) leads him into an adulterous affair with sultry stripper-on-the-run Pippi (pop diva Orfeh). The best elements of the show, however, are the three muses—Betty (Linda “Hairspray” Hart), Lin (comic genius Marya Grady), & Pickles (Leslie Kritzer, who is certainly the next big thing)—who tell the story with unrivaled comedic flare and whose musical numbers are a-hoot (think fierce)!

If for no other reason run to Dodger Stages to see the ultra uproarious number “Storm’s A-Brewin’,” a first-rate parody of disco hit “It’s Raining Men” that brings down the house. This has to rank as one of the most brilliant numbers I have ever witnessed. Ever. It alone is worth the price of admission. Believe me people! So if you’re in the mood for a fun show with a top-rate cast (which receives standing ovations every night), take a trip over to the Trailer Park and have yourself a good ole’ time.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Review: "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"

John Doyle’s ten-player actor-musician revival of “Sweeney Todd” manages to be as juicy and satisfying as Hal Prince’s original 1979 spectacular. The literal downsizing is conceptually justified by treating it as a Brechtian memory play recited at a madhouse. The intimate production might not have worked at such a large theater were it not for the creepy, intriguing performances of the versatile cast, especially Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone. Less epic and more dramatic, it compares favorably with Peter Brook’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” proving how reconceivable the great works of musical theater can be with the proper direction, creativity, and extensive dramaturgy.

Eugene O’Neill Theatre, 230 West 49th Street, $36.25-101.25, 212-239-6200; Fri 8pm, Sat 2 & 8pm.

Review: "Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
by Aaron Riccio

John Doyle’s revival of Sondheim’s classic musical Sweeny Todd really boils down to a definition of Broadway. Are you more compelled to see startling and striking theater, or do you want to be blown away? Based on the higher and higher tickets prices audiences have been willing to pay over the years for such show stopping musicals, it looks like it may unfortunately be the latter. And yet, Sweeny Todd, where the cast doubles as the orchestra, may be the definitive marker for a new-wave theater, as joyfully minimalist as 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and (much as a musical about a serial killer can be) as funny too.

Not that there aren’t flaws with this new production: it would be unrealistic to expect to find ten prodigies able to sing, act and play musical instruments flawlessly, let alone at once. The score has been reduced slightly to allow for this more intimate performance, but all the complexities are still there, and only Manoel Falciano (who plays the insane – which is really to say, inspired – Tobias) seems capable of gaily sprinting from violin to action to song. It's simply more visceral to see characters punctuating their lyrics with aggressive (or tender) instrumentals: more rewarding, at least, than simply hiding the orchestra away in some forsaken pit.

Michael Cerveris, as the ominous Todd, glooms over the audience with a menacing façade and frightening glower; yet he’s all heart, and gives the barber his full range, from wounded human to demonic killer, in songs like “Pretty Women” and “A Little Priest” (the funniest song about cannibalism, bar none). He and Patti LuPone, to compensate for their large roles, don’t really play their instruments much, and in his case, Cerveris is excused. However, LuPone, as the campy Mrs. Lovett (a part she should be far better at after Noises Off) often delivers slightly under-par: still enjoyable to watch, but sometimes appearing as if she’s simply going through the motions. And of course, that’s still far better than the uninspired performance delivered by Lauren Molina (Johanna), flat not only in her acting, but her singing as well. Perhaps it’s just that Benjamin Magnuson, who plays her lover, is one of the better elements of the show, or maybe she’s simply too inexperienced for the complexities of life, and Sondheim.

As for the presentation of Sweeny Todd, it is squeezed center stage: the one wall takes up more space than that—it stretches up to the catwalk. The effect is haunting, although the chaos of the final sequence is somewhat diminished and underwhelming. But when all the actors are being utilized for group numbers, like the upbeat “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir,” it is easy to see John Doyle’s appreciation for this brand of theater. Oscillating between a sales pitch and the pitch of their instrument, the actors become one with their instruments, and that’s exciting to watch. And, at worst, when there’s no blocking and the actors supposedly talk to each other from across the stage, Sweeny Todd is still enthralling—an oddball concert version at worst, a deliciously original adaptation at best.

Eugene O’Neill Theatre, 230 West 49th Street, $36.25-101.25, 212-239-6200; Fri 8pm, Sat 2 & 8pm.

Review: "The Taming of The Shrew"
by Hannah Snyder-Beck

Rebecca Patterson’s dedication to “providing performance opportunities for underserved women actors” is a worthy endeavor, and, as artistic director of The Queen’s Company, Patterson pursues this goal with passion and commitment. Patterson’s current all-female production of “The Taming of The Shrew” is creative and original; it is also flawed.

With the exception of Beverley Prentice, who delivers a first-rate performance as Hortensio, the women who play men in this production appear self-conscious about playing the opposite gender. The extent to which these actresses focus on executing masculine physicality is so great that they fail to play the truth of each moment; they instead rely on indicating and on poorly implemented shtick to get them through much of the show.

Carey Urban as Kate is unconvincing. Her anger and physical aggression do not appear to come from a real, deep-seated place. As a result, her interactions with fellow cast members feel stale and inconsequential. The fact that Urban is costumed in a white dress only adds to the problem: Kate is one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated characters because she is a force to be reckoned with. Sarah Iams’s choice to have the character garbed in white, a color often associated with innocence and purity, undermines Kate’s power and haughty bravado.

Ms. Urban’s shallow and frivolous portrayal of Kate lacks a sense of urgency, thus making it difficult for the audience to empathize with her. Urban makes murky choices, especially when it comes to Petruchio, which inauspiciously inform her performance. Likewise, Samarra, who only goes by the one name, gives an ineffective performance as Petruchio. The fury and aggression that Samarra broadcasts are showy and artificial. Samarra fails to pose a real threat as Petruchio, while Ms. Urban fails to be a force to be tamed. Neither actress seems to scratch the surface of their respective roles. Indeed, Kate’s transformation from a rambunctious rebel to an obedient wife is skimmed over. Instead of exploring Kate’s inner struggle, Patterson does the work for Ms. Urban, employing a cheap gimmick--a dream sequence--to demonstrate Kate’s conversion, thus letting Ms. Urban conveniently off the hook.

Some of Urban’s difficultly in rendering a realistic portrait of the fiery Kate may be attributed to the fact that Bianca is played by a blow-up doll. Having a doll replace a living, breathing actress eliminates the possibility of a real relationship between Kate and her sibling, Bianca. Equally eliminated is the antagonism inherent in the sisterly bond. In Shakespeare’s full text, there are allusions that Bianca is perpetually favored over Kate, which some interpret to be the source of Kate’s blistering anger. This would have been an interesting concept for Urban to consider; it might have infused her character with some real humanity.

Shakespeare’s Bianca seems to be a character with little agency, subject to the whims of everyone else in the play. Patterson’s idea of translating the textual to the theatrical through the use of a doll is interesting. However, dramatically, it does not work. The doll is distracting and does the cast a disservice. In the wedding between Lucentio (played by Amy Driesler) and Bianca, Driesler valiantly tries to make the lovers’ union believable. Yet, for all her efforts, watching Driesler canoodle with a rubber doll is embarrassingly absurd. Another perhaps more successful approach to dramatizing Bianca’s plight could have involved an actress taking on the physicality and mechanical movements of a doll. This could have prevented many of the production’s problems, while remaining true to Patterson’s vision, and employing another actress in the process.

Presented by the Queen's Company
at Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street, NYC
Nov. 5-20. Mon. and Wed-Sat. 7:30pm; Sun, 3pm
(212) 868-4444

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Review: The Taming of the Shrew By Liza White

They’re all women, they’re all barefoot, and they all just want to have fun. How else would you rationalize inserting a blowup doll, a colorful Indian wedding, and a striptease to Madonna’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun in Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew?” The Queens Company, whose Shrew is now playing at Walker Space, is making no apologies for being female or for being raunchy and by no means should they have to.

Considering the fact that all of Shakespeare’s roles were originally performed by men, I was anxious to see what The Queens Company would make of an all female show. I was amazed at how quickly my “wow, she really looks like a man” thoughts vanished and the characters simply became characters.

On a simple stage, Rebecca Patterson directed a new version of this Man vs. Woman power play which left me wondering who was taming whom. There was joy expressed through the ample violence, similar, this reviewer imagines, to the playfulness found in light S & M. Patterson’s choice to have Bianca played by a blowup Little Sweety Doll was not only sexually suggestive but also reflects a feministic view about what men consider the perfect wife. A blowup doll is certainly obedient and maybe even sexually satisfying, but when it comes to conversation, the doll is the pits. And unfortunately for the performance, when Bianca had lines, her muffled voice booming from speakers backstage was as satisfying as running out of batteries for your vibrator.

But making great conversation were Carey Urban as the strong willed Kate and Samarra as a handsome Petruchio. When Shakespeare wasn’t providing them with witty back and forth their bodies were engaged in flirtatious combat. Urban packs a mean kick to the groin whilst ever remaining demure and poised. The couple mastered the stubbornness of the characters while layering in an adolescent longing for one another.

The ensemble of The Queens Company add comedy at ever turn. Natalie Lebert is hilarious as the Widow. Even as a woman playing a man playing a woman, her subtle comedy grounds the character. Also of note are Gisele Richardson as an endearing Baptista and Beverly Prentice as a dashing Hortensio. Almost all the members of the company play more than one role and, for the most part, do a seamless job of it.

If you’re feeling frisky and need to be tamed or if you’re tame and need to be frisked, don’t miss this performance.

WALKER SPACE: 46 Walker Street (between Broadway & Church Street)
November 5 – November 20, 2005 (Wed-Sat & Mon @ 7:30pm, Sun @ 3pm)
Tickets: $15 (Wednesdays are 2 for 1 nights). Call (212) 868-4444 or visit
Trains: 6, A, C, E, J, M, N, Q, R, W, Z to Canal St. or 1, 9 to Franklin St.

Souvenir, by Matt Windman

Judy Kaye (Tony winner for "The Phantom of the Opera") is giving perhaps the best vocal performance on Broadway as history’s most notoriously awful singer in "Souvenir," a new two-person comedy at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre that premiered Off-Broadway last year at the York Theatre Company. Because Kaye takes her character of Florence Foster Jenkins so seriously, it becomes the most authentic example of campy comedy on Broadway. For though her rendition of Mozart's Queen of the Knight sounds like utter doggeral, she doggedly believes that she is a great singer who would have made "Mr. Mozart" proud.

Her chemistry with Donald Corren as her right-hand pianist is warmly genuine, and helps carry the two-and-a-half hour long show to a satisfying conclusion. Still, one wishes that Stephen Temperley's play had more characters, which would have expanded the plot's possibilities, making it into more of a play and less of a star vehicle. As such, director Vivian Matalon's work can only be judged by these two performances. Even so, "Souvenir" provides light, likable entertainment best suited for the Wednesday or Sunday matinee crowd. And the memory of watching one of Broadway's better divas pretend to be an awful performer is a nice souvenir to take away from it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Review: “Jersey Boys” by Aaron Riccio

...there's a great and vital energy suffusing the stage.

It's no wonder fans want to get to their feet and clap -

Everybody has a story, but not everybody has one that’d be so perfect for a made-for-Broadway play. Jersey Boys, a new musical biopic about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, has all the stereotypical junk we’ve seen before. The shady underbelly, the grassroots start, the chance meetings, the small crimes they climb out of (without ever really escaping), the clash of personality, the tension of creative design, oh, and yeah, the Mafioso connections. And yet, it’s Broadway-slick here, no mistakes or inconsistencies: even Frankie Valli’s initial stage-fright seems smooth as butter, which is great, because all that grease means the show, once it gets started, never stops moving.

If there are any complaints to be made about Jersey Boys, they certainly won’t come from fans of The Four Seasons. Not only are all four actors pretty much pitch-perfect for the roles, but they give such a passionate performance that they’re sure to have huge careers ahead of them (especially John Lloyd Young, who croons Valli’s delicate notes). No, if you’re a fan, you’ll be up on your feet with the other fans, clapping along (perhaps even singing along) to the famous hits, even as you learn (or re-learn) the precarious nature of those songs. Plus, Joe Pesci (not the real one) has a brief cameo as the band’s first roadie; What could be better?

Jersey Boys has all the elements necessary for a successful Broadway musical, and far surpasses the flimsy standards set by other musicals based on existing works and artists. Also, due to the light and fluffy nature of the music, there's a great and vital energy suffusing the stage. It's no wonder fans want to get to their feet and clap - even an audience unfamiliar with the constant #1 hits would still be swept away by the catchy beats, the invigoriating thrusts. However, this greatest strength is also their only flaw: the pop is so abundant (and inescapable) that after a while, seeing the same rehearsed dance moves and limited use of space becomes a little bland, a little boring. You’ll be listening more than watching, and that’s fine, isn’t it, because it means the music is first and foremost. Still, it makes seeing the show a little redundant, when the cast recording exists, and buying the cast recording seems superfluous when the band recordings still exist.

So take it for what it is: a musical experience as superficial (yet enjoyable) as the pop genre itself. There are no surprises in a lump of butter: so it is nice to get exactly what you pay for. Enjoy the smooth, perfectly edible, Four Seasons tribute/extravaganza that is Jersey Boys, even if the experience is bound to melt away the moment the curtain closes.

August Wilson Theatre
245 West 52nd Street
Tickets: $65.00-$100.00 (212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250)
Monday-Saturday @ 8:00; Wednesday and Saturday @ 2:00

Friday, November 04, 2005

Review: See What I Wanna See
by Eric Miles Glover

“LaChiusa writes no-holds-barred musical theater that refuses to cater to the tired businessman, but he pushes the envelope further with See What I Wanna See. His efforts, to some extent expected, are dangerous, leaving the viewer uncomfortable at times. The music is striking and beautiful, but it sometimes seems its sole purpose is to distance itself from popular music as much as possible.

Read entire review:

A new Michael John LaChiusa musical, See What I Wanna See is based on a collection of Japanese stories, one of which features an alleged murder. Witnesses and perpetrators narrate the events before, during, and after the murder but offer different versions of the events, with unreliable results. An example of postmodern and intellectual musical theater, See What I Wanna See reaches fruition and full potential during segments discussing murder, a crime of the heart for the colorful characters LaChiusa adapts.

“A lie becomes the truth, and the truth becomes a lie,” Idina Menzel sings in the opening song. Titled “Kesa,” the song presents a woman in Medieval Japan, with staccato footsteps, immaculate kimono, and brittle black hair. The abovementioned proverb she sings is poignant and its simple language is set to music Menzel sings with haunting but beautiful effortlessness. Her character, Kesa, is determined to murder her lover, Morito (Marc Kudish), during one of their scheduled lovemaking sessions. Morito does not know that death waits, however, and Kesa is successful in executing her plan, executing him.

Another murder occurs centuries later in New York, and the viewer watches as witnesses are called into a 1950s police interrogation room to provide sworn testimonies. A man is dead, and finding the murderer (or murderers) is the mission the characters prevent the police and the viewer from completing.

The viewer meets a nightclub singer (Menzel) and her controlling husband (Kudish). The couple attends a screening of the Japanese film Rashomon at a cinema where a janitor remembers seeing them. The couple then leaves the cinema, meeting a thief (Aaron Lohr) with a sexual appetite needing fulfillment. The thief leads them to Central Park, where he beats and bounds the husband before raping the wife.

Or so testifies the thief, one of five characters with stories to tell. His account is one of five about the events from the night in question. What is more, the wife testifies she kills her husband in self-defense—despite the fact she begs him to kill her, he proceeds to do so without flinching, and his lack of hesitation warrants her killing him. The janitor does not witness the murder and does not mention the wife in his statement at all. A beautiful woman is incapable of committing a heinous crime, he reasons. A medium, whose human form the departed husband enters during an epiphanic ritual, tells police that the wife and thief are lovers. In the end, that the husband is murdered is irrelevant, and that stories of passion, murder, and love collide is what remains salient.

“She Looked at Me,” the song the thief sings to give good reason for rape, is stunning. Aaron Lohr puts his heart into his performance, giving his all. A strong actor, he is the highlight of See What I Wanna See. His presence breaks the fourth wall and enables him to communicate with the viewer on a level rendering his account of the night in question all-pervading. In other words, he did not, would not, commit murder.

“Quartet” is beautiful, another powerful song in terms of plot, music, and character. The marquee of the theater that screens Rashomon is missing an “A,” and thus spells “R SHOMON.” During the quartet, the missing “A” becomes a scarlet letter, an embodiment of both vice and the alleged adulterous relationship the wife and thief share. Or so laments her husband through the medium. He and the medium sing words, all beginning with the letter “A,” that represent vice and his anger, while the wife and thief profess their love for each other.

In Act II, “Kesa” is reprised as the opening song. This time titled “Morito,” the song becomes a duet between the Medieval Japanese pair. This time Morito sees Kesa draw her dagger and the scene ends with the dagger pointed in his face.

The three abovementioned scenes—two in Medieval Japan, one in 1950s New York—make an engaging work of musical theater. In effect, the songs “Kesa” and “Morito” represent scenes from Rashomon (the film the married couple sees), framing and dictating the actions of the characters that exist in the offscreen world. LaChiusa is unsatisfied with the three scenes, however, and presents an additional tale about the quest for truth during the remainder of Act II.

In the final and weakest scene that follows, we meet a priest experiencing faith-related problems in 2005. Joking, he convinces New Yorkers (a news reporter, a homeless CPA, an actress) that the Second Coming is imminent. The climax of the scene is the song “The Greatest Practical Joke,” when an eccentric Italian woman berates the priest, her nephew, for his religious convictions. Religion and God are the greatest practical joke, she bemoans. Despite an interesting premise, the scene does not sustain the interest of the viewer and distances him.

LaChiusa writes no-holds-barred musical theater that refuses to cater to the tired businessman, but he pushes the envelope further with See What I Wanna See. His efforts, to some extent expected, are dangerous, leaving the viewer uncomfortable at times. The music is striking and beautiful, but it sometimes seems its sole purpose is to distance itself from popular music as much as possible. The title number, which the wife sings as part of her nightclub act, is unlikable, unlike the all-the-rage standards singers sang in the 1950s. What is more, the music evokes the atonal operas of Dimitri Shostakovich and Alban Berg but is inconsistent in eliciting emotional responses from the viewer like the music from Wozzeck, for example.

In the end, no matter how unbecoming or daring, the scenes from Medieval Japan and 1950s New York succeed alongside each other, while the scene set in 2005 neither engages the viewer like the first three nor captures their sense of drama.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

"Captain Louie," by Matt Windman

Speaking of impossibilities, Stephen Schwartz’s new Off-Broadway musical “Captain Louie” is meant for kids, performed by kids, but makes a joyous 60-minute experience for adults. Unlike the loud, electric and eclectic score of “Wicked,” “Captain Louie” soars with light, tender melodies and simple stagecraft. The show's book, which concerns lessons about making friends and growing up, is less convincing, but does provide opportunities for some pretty wonderful songs. Like "You're a Good man Charlie Brown," the show probably also has a big future ahead in amateur and community productions.