THE  LAST  SHIP   at  the  Neil  Simon  Theatre

(Seen  November  27,  2014)

This is a charismatic tale about a Northern England ship-building town facing problems with the loss of its' singular  industry.   It is also a love story about a young man who leaves this home to find a better life for himself on the sea --- leaving behind his young lover, to whom he promises to return.  These two characters, however, are lost in the larger story, and fade into the background, leaving us without a focus other than the ship. 

The societal aspects it is framed against are reminiscent of BILLY ELLIOT, but its' characters are less appealing, and it doesn't have a happy ending.

Unfortunately, Sting's score has more tempo than melody.  The beat is there but the music  feels lacking in texture.  And the book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey is repetitive and doesn't involve and capture the audience.

The ensemble cast is first-rate, even they are burdened with stereotypical characters, along with a unbelievable (even if based on truth)  story of a town that defies the authorities to build and launch one last ship.

The show has gusto and bravado, but lacks soul.
IT'S  ONLY  A  PLAY    at  the  Schoenfeld  Theatre

(Seen November 22, 2014)

This is  a very entertaining,  if shallow,  play.   And its' star-studded cast plays along with  the conceit of making fun of themselves.

Playwright Terrence McNally has  updated many references to tickle the fancy of an in-the-know audience.

His story of an opening night party in the posh home of its' flighty producer doesn't mess around with its' pointed references to critics and actors and playwrights.  And Nathan Lane's character delights in taking jabs at the real Nathan Lane (without actually naming him).

F. Murray Abraham,  Matthew Broderick,  Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally, along with Nathan Lane, all seem to relish their clever dialogue and farcical pursuits.   Director Jack O'Brien has paced his cast well.  An enjoyable venture for cast and audiences.

BILLY  AND  RAY   at the Vineyard  Theatre

(Seen November, 2014)

This play illuminates a beginning chapter in the collaborative life of Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler as they embark on a successful film partnership.  

Director Garry Marshall has his small cast working at a frenzy, as if this was a  '30s  'B'  movie --- full of their hype and style and stereotype.   And he has them all do repetitive actions as if there was some meaning to these actions!  Among the strange actions, his various characters are endlessly adjusting the blinds in the room --- as if it were significant!

Although he strives for the ambiance of a Wilder movie, he only gets a staccato race through the situation.  Even the fine work of Larry Pine as Chandler is lost in the sought-for Wilder style.

A  STOOL  AT  THE  END  OR  THE  BAR   at 59E59

(Seen November 18, 2014)

This is a complicated, if simplistic, story of a transgender man living as the wife of a blue-collar working-man and his three children.  Suddenly the family discovers that the loving wife and step-mother was born as a male.  

The husband's reactions are volatile, as he searches his soul for answers --- doubting his own masculinity along the way.  He is angry and hurt, while his children are full of bewilderment.

Unfortunately, the characters are stereotypical, and despite a lengthy back-story, the character of the wife is under-developed. Because of this, the character comes across as somewhat indifferent and aloof.  She seems unable to understand her family's reactions.

As with far too many plays these days, the action just stops. Although  in  real  life  there  are  loose  ends  without a real resolution, we expect more in a dramatic work.  The play also fails to give the audience an emotional involvement.

                        at the Public Theater

(Seen November, 2014)

Suzan-Lori Parker's latest play at her home base,  the Public Theater,  suffers from her conceit of the work as a Greek tragedy. The characters sport classic Greek names, and the chorus of illiterate slaves spout words of wisdom, mostly to the audience.

Despite the fine cast, with true ensemble spirit, the show comes cross as precious rather than meaningful.

Presented in three "parts" of a projected nine cycle work, only the middle part presents real dramatic conflict.  Hero, our protagonist, is faced with a choice  of freedom versus loyalty to his abusive 'master'.   With a hint of free will, he frees the Yankee prisoner in his charge, but follows his 'master' into battle.

A turn of events in Part 3 sets things in motion in anticipation of the next segments of the would-be epic work.

Director Jo Bonney  often has the characters turn and talk to the audience in the middle of a speech between two actors, which detracts from any dramatic interplay between the characters.  A worthy undertaking which doesn't achieve its' expected goals.  

THE  RIVER  at  Circle-In-The-Square Theatre

(Seen November 2, 2014)

Jez Butterworth's new play is a vehicle for the Broadway return of Hugh Jackman in a non-musical role.  But despite Jackman's reliable work, it is a tedious, and at times, vague play.

The story unfolds intermingling present and past, as Jackman's character is searching for real love.  It's a confused journey, taking place in a cabin on a river where he loves to fish.

His current and past love co-inhabit the search, and their inter-actions are often unclear.  And the constant talk about fishing --- his real love ---overshadows everything else!

Unlike Butterworth's last Broadway show, JERUSALEM --- which served as a vehicles for Mark Rylance --- this comes across as an unbelievable and unfulfilling work.
YOU  CAN'T  TAKE  IT  WITH  YOU  at  the  Longacre  Theatre

(Seen September, 2014)

With a stellar cast headed by James Earl Jones, and including Elizabeth Ashley, Mark-Linn Baker,  Julie Halston, and a host of excellent actors, this revival, though dated, is totally entertaining.

This American classic by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman holds up remarkably well, and even occasionally relates to contemporary politics and society.

While it sometimes verges on caricature in the writing, the willing cast throws itself into the comedic material with a truthfulness and commitment to the varied and eccentric characters, so that there is some sense of reality.

Director Scott Ellis is consistent with the attitudes of the play, which contributes tou our acceptance and enjoyment of the show.


WAITING  FOR  GODOT  at the Barrow St. Playhouse

(Seen September 7, 2014)

I know that theatre-goers should not have expectations about a show, and yet I assumed that GODOT....  in Yiddish would add more of an aspect of place ---- post-Holocaust.  

Instead, this turned out to be a pretty straight-forward production.
The English super-titles, projected high above the action, were a distraction, though necessary for most of the audience.

The small cast were all capable and interesting, and the audience seemed totally into the now-classic play.  Strangely, Yiddish did, at times, seem to lighten the dialogue, so it brought out the humor and pathos.


THE  KING  AND  I   at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre

(Seen  May 2, 2015)

From the opening scene, with a huge ship approaching the audience, while underneath a full orchestra, visible to the audience,  is playing the overture, THE KING AND I sails into our collective hearts.

It is an enduring Rodgers and Hammerstein masterpiece of musical theatre, still fresh and meaningful through multiple revivals.  As directed by Bartlett Sher, it scores as an outstanding musical treat.

Its' huge cast is headed by Kelli O'Hara, who sings and moves and acts like she is a person in charge of her life.  Ken Watanabe's King is impressive, and Anna's son is given life by Jake Lucas, in an impressive depiction of a young man of his times.

The entire cast is most impressive --- the King's wives, his many children, a pair of young lovers, and the people who serve them all.

The setting throughout --- not only the ship's arrival --- maintains the feeling of spectacle while being simple and decorative.

A very welcome revival at Lincoln Center!
SOMETHING  ROTTEN  at the St. James Theatre

(Seen April 30, 2015)

It's always a welcome surprise when I go to a show that I expect to despise, and I actually enjoy it.  I have problems with shows that keep saying "Look how clever I am!", while I am suffering at the ridiculousness of it all.

While SOMETHING  ROTTEN borders on that, it actually is clever and silly without going over the top,  And of course, having Brian D'Arcy James as a major player, does help.

This story of how the first musical came to be written is funny.  With Shakespeare as a contemporary, two brothers --- would-be playwrights --- try to eke out a living in the shadow of Shakespeare, who is a hot-shot London idol, equivalent to a present day rock star.

Christian Borle's Shakespeare is a preening dandy who makes it big as the premiere writer of his time.  He is not above stealing ideas and plots from his circle of theatre cronies.

James' Nick is told by a phony seer (Brad Oscar) that the next big phase of theatre lies in musicals --- a seemingly crazy idea at the time.  And the play enfolds from that prediction, as Nick and his brother try to create the first musical --- called OMELET, the seer's misreading of HAMLET.  

The show has lots of 'inside' show business allusions.  And while it often approaches  caricature,  it maintains a comedic spirit without going over the line too much.  All in all, an entertaining romp!

HAMILTON  at the Public Theater

(Seen March 1, 2015)

The theatre boasts a number of what we call "triple-threat" artists --- in this case, we have a quadruple threat:  book, music, lyrics --- and star!  This, of course, is Lin-Manual Miranda.

Miranda, of course, first came to theatre prominence with his musical IN THE HEIGHTS, in which he was also a featured member of the large cast.  But with HAMILTON,  he seems to have developed his talents to a new and highly successful level.

Musically, he blends old-fashioned melody with hip-hop, and uses both to great advantage.  And as an actor/singer, he leads a greatly talented cast, who all act/sing/dance appropriately, especially Phillipa Soo (who recently starred in NATASHA, PIERRE....).

Special mention must be made of Brian D'Arcy James, whose insets into the American saga, as King George, are delightful, both his stand-out performance and the clever writing.  The vignettes featuring James are gems of entertainment.

[ I find myself in the minority of reviewers of this show, because although I think this is a major musical achievement, I have some problems with all of our "founding fathers"  being either Black or Hispanic.  Though all the performances are excellent, I found the casting somewhat distracting.  But that no way lessens the impact of Miranda's accomplishments.]
THE  VISIT  at the Lyceum Theatre

(Seen April 22, 2015)

After lingering outside New York for many, many years, Kander/Ebb/McNally's musical version of THE VISIT has happily arrived on Broadway.  This dark version of Durenmatt's original play comes across as a stark and dark depiction of society and of personal human behavior.

Chita Rivera and Roger Rees bring a wonderful presence to the two leading characters, both acting-wise and musically.  Director John Doyle  brings both a stylized and minimal approach to the material, and succeeds in both genres.  

Graciela Daniele's simplistic modern dance choreography is highly effective, particularly by the younger versions of Rivera's and Rees' characters, beautifully played by Michelle Ventimilla and John Riddle.

Actually, the entire cast is first rate, inhabiting their stylized roles, and carrying out the new vision of THE VISIT.  I highly recommend a visit to this stark and highly entertaining theatre event.
BEDBUGS  at  the  Arclight  Theatre

(Seen  October 26, 2014)

I saw this show at a performance which co-incidentally co-insided with the Comic Con Convention in New York.  Those patrons would have loved and related to this musical fantasy, which has a comic book/graphic novel approach.

Creators Paul Leschen and Fred Sauter take us into a world where the bedbugs were seemingly rampant in 1989 New York City.  Led by the leader of the bedbug hordes, they want to kill all those New Yorkers who stand in their way.  They are opposed by a singularly dedicated scientist who is equally intent in finding a chemical solution to destroy all the bedbugs.

Flash forward to contemporary NYC, and the struggle still persists, 
with the bedbugs seemingly being more successful than the humans.  Enter romance, with the male leader bedbug and the female scientist falling in love!  But the struggle goes on.

The ensemble cast seems to inhabit their roles and the material, with relish and fervor.  Although this is totally not my personal vision of musical theatre, the audience was overwhelming in its' approval.

LENNON  Through  A  Glass  Onion   at the Union Square Theatre

(Seen October 25, 2014)

This is mainly a concert disguised as a play.  It is a vehicle  for John R. Waters, who conceived and performs the music of John Lennon.  He takes on the personna of Lennon, and its' some three dozen songs are interspersed with the 1st-person narrative of Lennon's professional and social development.

Rather than trying to emulate Lennon's sound and interpretation, Waters gives us a dramatic attitude which is both effective and precise.  He is ably assisted by pianist/vocalist Stewart D'Arrietta.

The show is a feast for Lennon fans, and the audience mainly responded approvingly.  Waters, an Australian star at home, has been performing this show for more than 20 years.  He captures Lennon's moods of early desperation and later acceptance, with a relative contentment before his untimely murder by a deranged stalker.

It is a fitting tribute to a talented and troubled icon

UNCLE  VANYA  at the Pearl Theatre Company

(Seen September 30,  2014)

UNCLE VANYA, one of the reasons so many modern plays are called 'Chekovian', is a classic story of unfullfillment and loss, set in Russia's pre-revolutionary period.

An extended family portrait, we enter their world of a country house and a family in distress, where each one is disappointed at the way their life has played out, emotionally, as they crave prople they cannot have. 

This production is fairly straightforward, without any gimmicks or time shifting, and is rather faithful to the material in its' interpretation.  

The cast is well-suited to the material, but the director has decided to have them act at such high pitch that they sometimes verge on caricature.  They become mannered and obvious, which tends to distract us from Chekov's deep emotional context.

ALMOST  HOME  at  the Acorn Theatre

(Seen  September 28, 2014)

Walter Anderson has created a play examining another dysfunctional family in the Bronx.  The time is 1965, and the young son has returned home from the war.  A marine hero,  he is plagued by the memory of not being able to save his wounded and dying best friend.

He is a young man who has risen above his early misdeeds and environment to achieve success in the Marines.  His plans to attend college are thwarted by his feeling responsible to pay off the debts of his often-drunken and abusive father.  His father has a shady background, and has relied on a police captain in the local precinct to keep him out of jail.

One of the play's many problems is that the mostly realistic situations often border on caricature, and strains our credulity.   The scenes are erratic and somewhat predictable.   But most distracting in this family melodrama, is that the play stops, rather than ending.  The resolution is left to the audience's conjecture.


(Seen September 27, 2014)

After a melange in the first act, the second act becomes a melee!  Director Ivan Van Hove has turned the  classic Bergmann film into another of his experimental exercises.  The result is an unfocussed journey of a couple's various stages of relationship, with three disparate couples depicting the same couple as they age and as their marriage disintegrates.

For no other reason than an errant device, he has divided the NYTW space into three small theatre areas.  He has parts of the audience move to an adjacent space after each half-hour scene.  Eventually, the audience comes together for the second act, after the theatre barriers are removed.  The only thing this device achieves is a lack of comprehension --- which is also contributed to by having his actors feign a sense of improvisation.

Unfortunately, at none of the stages of the marriage, do any of the three different couples ever show a chemistry of attraction to one another, which makes us doubt that a relationship could ever begin!  The wife, especially in the final stage of the marriage, is an excessively needy woman, who is often self-destructive.

In the sercond act,  all six actors interact with one another, often switching their time differences.  The improvisational feeling of the script is enhanced to a point of total unreality.  Van Hove even has a scene of the eldest Johan uncharacteristically dragging his wife by her legs across the huge expanse of the now theatre-in-the-round stage.

The whole second act is unnecessarily drawn out, and misses any insight as to why they act the way they do!

Van Hove's approach to theatre, as evidenced by this and his previous work at NYTW,  seems to  be attempts to deconstruct established theatre pieces simply for the sake of deconstruction!@

LOVE  LETTERS  at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre

(Seen  September 24, 2014)

I had forgotten how powerful a two-character play could be with the right confluence of playwright, performers, and director.  A. R. Gurney's simple, finely wrought story, with two people sitting at a table, facing the audience, is a dramatic tour-de-force.  Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy embody the 50-year friendship -- and sometimes, lovers --- that have shaped their lives.

As privileged WASP children (she more privileged than he), they first meet in their private elementary school.  Their lives unfold for us through letters written to each other --- mostly at his instigation, since she prefers the telephone!

His letters are informative; hers, brief responses.  But we watch their relationship grow, and splinter, and revive, as they each deal with their individual family lives.

Gurney's perceptive writing, the virtuoso acting of two creative performers, and the unseen presence of director Gregory Mosher, all come together to give us a theatrical experience that is meaningful and enjoyable.

Farrow and Dennehy are the first  pair of stars who will be playing these roles in limited periods.  The succeeding duos will have an exceptionally high standard to measure up to.  Mia Farrow's return to Broadway is especially welcome!
THIS  IS  OUR  YOUTH  at the Cort Theatre

(Seen September  21,  2014)

Kenneth Lonergan's evocative play is another revival (from off-Broadway) kicking off the new season.  In his character studies of three upper-Westside Jewish New York teenagers, he portrays their struggle with drugs, sex, and liquor -- and with each other -- as they grow up in the Reagan era.

Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and Tavi Gevinson are all talented and energetic performers.  They bring a sense of realism and perception to their 
highly animated roles.

Occasionally director Anna D. Shapiro has her cast acting at such high pitch that they are on the verge of caricature --- but fortunately the performers and the playwright maintain a broad but healthy range of emotions.

It is a very enjoyable look at a past that remains contemporary.

HEREAFTER  at the Snapple  Theater Center

(Seen  September 20, 2014)

This new musical is in dire need of a director and a dramaturg.  The extraneous "chorus" are an inter-ruptive  presence in an already diffuse musical.  And the over-long book  is in need of some judicious cutting.

The story involves three disparate women who come together at the home of a psychic in order to make contact with their deceased loved ones.  They are each looking for 'closure' in order to go on with their lives.

But the book gives us eight caricatures!  For comedy to succeed, it needs to have some basis in reality.  But this show only relies on silliness.  And the director-choreographer gives us a 'by the numbers' presentation, which is stilted and halting.

Vinnie Favace's music and lyrics are interesting and usually enjoyable, but with his book co-writer Frankie Kenne, they have created a rambling theatre piece.  It is only made worse by director Terry Berliner, who constantly interrupts the action, especially by staging so many songs with the cast posturing blatantly.  This only further distances the characters from the action.

AND  I  AND  SILENCE  at the Signature Theatre

(Seen August 31, 2014)

Rife with symbolism and earnestness, but short on reality and meaning, this two character play (with four actresses) tells the story of a complicated relationship between two female prisoners beginning in 1950.  One is Black, one is white, and both are teenagers adjusting to prison life.

Their tentative friendship grows, and playwright Naomi Wallace intermingles time and space to show their initial meeting and their involvement nine years later, after they are out of prison, and roommates.  There are shades of Genet's THE MAIDS in their playacting interactions, but no real tension in their non-sexual interplay.  There is some light-hearted activity as they practice being "proper" maids, but very little action.

And when they finally initiate a sexual relationship, this strangely leads to a painful suicide pact.  Trae Harris/Rachel Nicks portray Jamie, and Emily Skeggs/Samantha Soule is Dee, and all four turn in fine performances in a difficult play.

Director Caitlin McCleod and designer Rachel Hauck have strangely given the actors a huge space to represent the confined cell and the subsequent room they share, which detracts from the intimacy they supposedly share.  The time shifts are also jarring as the four actors pass each other  as they go through their 'time travel'.  And the mundane activities McCleod give her cast are more mystifying than meaningful.


KING  LEAR  at the Public Theater's Delacorte Theater

(Seen August 3, 2014)

There are no gimmicks or time traveling in Daniel Sullivan's straightforward direction of Shakespeare's tragic tale,  John Lithgow, in the title role,  gives a virtuoso performance, ably surrounded by a large company of actors.

The ensemble company lets us hear the words as they capture the mood for the undoing of an old king as he deteriorates into senility and madness.  The supporting actors happily do not fall into stereotypes nor show-boarding.

  Particularly effective is Jay D, Sander's Kent, who effectively underplays what could be a showy role.  This is  also true  for Clarke Peters as Gloucester and C. Iwuji as his son Edgar, as well as Eric Sheffer Stevens as Edmund.  Steven Boyer's Foil is played as an unusually young and agile jester.

All in all, an enjoyable visit with a sad Shakespearean tale.
HOLLER  IF  YA  HEAR ME  at the Palace Theatre

(Seen June 15, 2014)

HOLLER,,,, is not the life story of the late Tupac Shakur, but   rather a kind of juke-box musical.   Book writer Todd Kreidler has fashioned a story using Shakur's lyrics and music to tell the story of  life in a contemporary ghetto in a mid-Western industrial city.  (But it could have been set 20 years ago in the Bronx --- unfortunately for today's society.)

The show illustrates the struggles and mortality of young Blacks enmeshed in drugs and gang warfare.  It is a more devastating and serious reminder of gang activities introduced to us more than five decades ago in WEST SIDE STORY, but revealing more about dead-end life in the ghetto.

This is another example, however, of a very talented cast stuck in a somewhat cliche show.  Although featuring some really fine performances, it is really an ensemble show, with adept musical staging by Wayne Cilento, and skilled and very appropriate direction by Kenny Leon.

I was unfamiar with Shakur's work, and this is a worthy showcase for him.  Strangely he is only credited for lyrics, with no one credited for the music,
A  FABLE  at the Cherry Lane Theatre

(Seen June 8, 2014)

With a pot  pourri of Aesop and Brecht, among others, David Van Asselt has concocted a murky fable of the struggles between God and Satan for the soul of Everyman.  But this mixed bag of characters, events, and themes, comes across as gimmicky and pretentious. 

 And we don't really care about the human frailties of his Everyman character, Jonny, played with such reserve and low-key manner by Hubert Point-Du-Jour, as to make him void of personality.  And Samantha Soule is a more effective God(dess) than the pretentious and energetic Gordon Joseph Weiss's Satan (Luke).  Dawn-Lynn Gardner, Jonny's soul-mate, Claudia, is vivacious and often appealing.

Director Daniel Talbott's staging doesn't add any clarity to the muddled story, while Elizabeth Swado's monotonous "song and lyrics" add little to the tone or meaning of the script.

The cast is generally energetic and willing, but they are all caught in a hapless and hopeless fable!

JUST  JIM  DALE  at Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre

(Seen May 20, 2014)

Jim Dale is most personable, and an utmost consummate performer.  He is comfortable singing, dancing, acting, and telling stories.  His new one-person show (plus an enthusiastic pianist --- Mark York), which Dale has written for himself, is not only completely entertaining, but also very revelatory.

Even though I have interviewed Jim Dale a number of times in the past, I learned new aspects of his very creative life.  Other than his highly respected Broadway work and classical forays in London, he mostly talked about his music hall training and his work as a "busker".  I never knew he was a composer, nor that he wrote the lyrics for GEORGY GIRL, among other hits,

As he tells us about the steps in his career, he is totally at ease recounting the foibles and successes in his professional life.  And Richard Maltby Jr.'s seamless direction is happily invisible.

JUST JIM DALE is a triumph as a theatre piece, blending his many talents into a wonderful evening of theatre,
THE CITY OF CONVERSATION at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre

(Seen May 14, 2014)

This chronicle of politics in Washington, D,C, starts with the Carter presidency, moves to Reagan's period, and ends with the Obama inauguration.  It is both a family drama and a political journey, seen through the eyes of a liberal Democratic "hostess", expertly played by the illuminating Jan Maxwell,

It is also an ensemble piece, and the very able cast all contribute to its' sense of reality and believability.  Playwright Anthony Giardina has written what I feel is the best play of the season, ably directed by Doug Hughes on John Lee Beatty's very appropriate settings.

Politics and family dysfunction are equally explored by Giardina in a very welcome and well-structured play.  Officially a post-season show, I look forward to some well=deserved awards next year.



at the Walter Kerr Theatre

(Seen May 17, 201)

This by-the-numbers musical romp, based on the same source as KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS,    
breezes through the story-line much like it was a combination of British music hall fare and Gilbert & Sullivan --- fast, furious. obvious, and sometimes too precious.

It is an entertaining tour-de-force for its versatile company, who have a chance to show off some wonderful singing voices.  It is a great talent showcase, particularly for Lauren Loorsham and Lisa O'Hare, as well as for Bryce Pinkham and Jefferson Mays.  

Admittedly, this is not my kind of a show, but along with the enthusiastic audience, I enjoyed the music and G & S patter.

(Interestingly, this is another show which features more than three dozen producers above the title.)

CABARET  at Studio 54

(Seen April 30, 2014)

In this raucous revival of the last revival of this modern-classic musical, all the characters are there, but it comes across as tired and dated.  Alan Cummings' previous triumphant portrayal of the emcee now seems somewhat pedestrian.  And his rendition of "If You Could See Her" lacks the impact of the underlying meaning of the song.

If the role of Sally Bowles is supposed to be that of a second-rate singer and an amoral prostitute, then Michelle Williams fills the role perfectly, although we're used to seeing superior singers with a slight touch of class in the role.

Bill Heck is a lackluster Clifford Bradshaw, and we care very little about his pivotal character.  That feeling seems to pervade the whole production, despite the particularly good work of Linda Edwards and Danny Burstein.  The large ensemble does provide a spirit and verve in their often-multiple roles.

The music remains a beautiful and effective score.

ACT ONE  at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre

(Seen April 27, 2014)

James Lapine's  adaptation and direction of Moss Hart's now-classic autobiography is lively and entertaining.  As Hart, three stars play him at different ages of his life:  Santino Fontana, Tony Shalhoub, and Matthew Schecter, each one personable and accomplished --- particularly appealing is Fontana!

The inventive turntable-mounted set by Beowulf Boritt, and effective lighting by Ken Billington, serves Lapine's  cinematic approach, even though it sometimes seems cumbersome.

My problem is with the tone of the play, and some of Lapine's choices of material.  He trivializes many of the characters, particularly those of Dore Schary, Ed Chodorov, and Charles Gilpin.  Although the events my be true to Hart's book, it feels like Lapine was always looking for a comedic punch-line, trying to make it a popular entertainment. 

Obviously he succeeds, judging by the enthusiastic audience response to the jokes and the caricatures.  But it could have been so much more

THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN  at the Booth Theatre

(Seen April 25, 2014)

Eric Coble's contemporary  realistic play effectively involves the audience in this story of an aging parent and the eldest of her dysfunctional children.  The dialogue and the characters come across as real people trying to connect, and explores the dilemma of growing old and living alone.

Although the situation that Coble creates may strain our credulity, the characters do not.

The play stars Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella as the mother/son antagonists.  At the performance I attended, Ms. Parsons was out sick.  Her standby, Libby George, was not the least bit disappointing.  She is an accomplished actress who fully inhabited the role.  Spinella, as always, was excellent.

Although the play is a fine vehicle for these stellar performers, it seems to end rather abruptly, without really resolving the somewhat absurd situation Coble has created.

VIOLET at the American Airlines Theatre

(Seen April 24, 2014)

Sutton Foster proves her versatility again as she essays the title role in this  highly effective musical.  With appropriate low-key music by Jeanine Tesori and fine book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, it features an excellent cast, simply and effectively staged by Leigh Silverman.

It is an intimate, small-scale musical that totally involves the audience in Foster's character's journey.  Alexander Gemignani demonstrates once again his ability to inhabit a role, and Emerson Steele (as the young Violet) makes a memorable Broadway debut.

A highly recommended experience. 


(Seen April 23, 2014)

This revival of Martin McDonagh's anguishly funny comedy comes to New York with a truly ensemble cast.  Under Michael Grandage's perceptive direction, this nine-character company (starring Daniel Radcliffe) brings out the humor and the pathos of these assorted village regulars.

While Radcliffe is the reason and the focus of this revival, it is to everyone's credit that there is no grandstanding to impede our belief and acceptance of the events and the varied characters.  It is a first-rate production.

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH at the Belasco Theatre

(Seen April 19, 2014)

One outlandish star, Neil Patrick Harris, creates a wonderful and memorable character in this revival of a long-ago, off-Broadway cultish musical.  The talents Harris displayed as the host of the Tony Awards shows, are expanded as he romps through this, demonstrating that he is a most impressive actor/singer/dancer!  

This is the story of a transgender whose botched operation leaves him/her physically incomplete   The "angry inch" refers to the remains of his penis, as well as the name of his Band.

First embodied by John Cameron Mitchell in the original play and follow-up film, Harris now makes the role his own.  Although basically a one-person vehicle, he is most ably supported by Lena Hall and the four musicians who comprise THE ANGRY INCH band.  

Director Michael Mayer has successfully guided this show to its impressive transition and fruition on the Broadway stage.

(As another example of what goes into the making of a Broadway production, some 20 producers are listed above the title of the show!)

OF MICE AND MEN at the Longacre Theatre

(Seen April 18, 2014)
When it comes to John Steinbeck's  OF MICE AND MEN,  I have to admit that I have a bias.  I have been on intimate terms with the play (and novel) since 1957 --- when I wrote the book and lyrics for a musical version.  I was fortunate enough to meet with Steinbeck on a number of occasions, and still have a four-page letter he wrote me about his visions of the four leading characters --- George, Lennie, Curley's Wife, and Candy.

I think Steinbeck wrote a wonderful play about the lives and frustrations faced by his characters in their struggles to find a better life.  But like Burns' "best laid plans" and Shakespeare's "how all things do conspire against us", it just wasn't meant to be! 

I think director Anna Shapiro has missed an opportunity to make this production into a wrenching experience for her audience, as well as for her competent cast.

I found Chris Dowd's interpretation  of the simple-minded Lennie both superficial and caricature-ish, with a  pseudo-California accent and exaggerated gestures.  True, the play is melodramatic, but there are many true moments and levels of reality that have been missed.  

Because of that lack, my attention was called to minor things which I might not have noticed if I was emotionally involved in the action.  So maybe I'm nit-picking.  Ed Norton's Candy is too robust for the character;  and the apparent decision not to give him some prosthetic for his missing hand by having him hide his hand under a long-sleeved shirt, doesn't work ---especially when he open the bunk-house door with his missing hand!

And Shapiro loses some "ooh, aah" moments by having Lennie's new pup as a prop rather than a puppy. And her staging of the murder, when Lennie accidently breaks Curley's Wife's neck while trying to keep her quiet, seems like a love scene gone astray!  

We are given little motivation for George to personally kill Lennie before the posse finds him.  Candy's regret at letting someone else kill his beloved dog, is replayed here for George to have to do it himself.

And in the final moments of the play, she has George back-up across the stage to fire the pistol at Lennie -- breaking the bond the two characters have with one another,  in their final moments when Lennie visualizes his dream of a place of their own.  


at the Circle In The Square Theatre

(Seen April 17, 2014)

Audra McDonald is back on Broadway, this time embodying the soul and voice and tragedy of Billie Holiday  (in what will surely gain her a Tony nomination --- she is a five-time winner!).

This is basically a one-person show --- although the jazz trio backing her and playing before her appearance are all excellent musicians.  While McDonald gives a virtuoso performance, I miss the structure that would have made this play by Lanie Robertson more of a play than merely an extended  concert.

Director Lonny Price has guided McDonald with a sure hand, ably showing Holiday's descent into despair, anger, frustration --- all leading to her untimely death from drugs and alcohol.

BULLETS OVER BROADWAY at the St. James Theatre

(Seen April 16, 2014)

The characters and the situations seem to hew to the Woody Allen movie from which this musical was adapted.  And the very capable cast follows director Susan Stroman's briskly-paced action.  

It is a story of a cerebral playwright who compromises his principles in order to get his play produced on Broadway.  Add to this that the producer is a ruthless comic gangster who wants his "moll" to have a leading role, despite her obvious acting shortcomings.

The situation is reminiscent of the 'B' movies of the '20s and '30s  -- as well as a very funny play called BREAKING LEGS.

Despite many misgivings, it is an entertaining vehicle for the personable and talented cast.  Vocally, Karen Ziemba, Marin Mazzie, and Betsy Wolfe stand out from the large featured cast --- all of whom are in top form.

While Nick Cordero and Helena Yorke turn their caricature characters into fine portrayals, I am troubled by Zach Braff making the playwright into a Woody Allen nebish.  

I had some problems with the orchestrations  which often  made the well-known songs of the '20s into more stylized pieces, sometimes hiding  their original phrasing.  And some of Stroman's excellent dances at times seemed superfluous for the situations, interfering with the normal flow of action.

The audience, however, seemed to relish every moment, with the loudest approval for Nick Cordero. 

THE REALISTIC JONESES at the Lyceum Theatre

(Seen April 15, 2014)

Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall, Tracey Lett and Marisa Tomei play the two Jones' families, next-door neighbors living in a small town in the shadow of some mountains.  They each have secrets in their lives, some of which we learn.  

There is a lot of clever and quirky dialogue as their lives unravel --- but the non-sequitur,  disjointed talk goes nowhere.  The play is missing structure and development as we learn some tid-bits of who they are.  But since we only get to know them superficially, we don't really care about them.

Clever repartee doesn't add up to a play.  Will Eno's script short-changes his versatile, personable and accomplished cast. 

LES MISERABLES at the Imperial Theatre

(Seen April 8, 2014)

In this current revival the music soars, the people shout, and the singers triumphantly reach their epic notes --- and the audience is loud and ecstatic in its enthusiastic responses.

The score is still effective, despite  its' lack of variety in the various melodies, because it gives the singers the opportunity to show off the range of their voices.

The vocal renditions by Ramin Karimoo (Jean Valjean). Will Swenson (Javert), and Kyle Scatliffe (Enjolras) are particularly impressive, but the voices of all the principals are to be complimented --- Cassie Levy (Fantine), Samantha Hill (Cosette), Vicki K. James (Eponine), and Andy Mientus (Marius).  And Cliff Saunders' comic/threatening turn as the Master of the House is inventive and noteworthy. 

Whatever the score lacks musically is overshadowed by the entire company's spirit and talents.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE at the Booth Theatre

Somehow this current revival has managed to hide Tennessee William's wonderful lyric poetry.  This fine drama floats on strange islands (literally) of activity under John Tiffany's direction.

His emphasis on Tom's sexuality is a plus factor in Zachary Quinto's portrayal of a lost soul struggling and  trying to leave his mundane life behind him --- which is not possible in this beautiful memory play.

Cherry Jone's overbearing Amanda is somewhat emotionless, while Celia Keenan-Bolgar captures Laura's vulnerability and unease.  The welcome surprise is Brian J. Smith's embodiment of the Gentleman Caller --- he brings a fresh drive to his sensitive and caring portrayal.


SOUL DOCTOR at Circle In The Square Theatre

(Seen August 14, 2013)

This new bio-docu-musical, SOULD DOCTOR, urgently needs a script doctor to pare some of its bulging two and a half hour length, as it meanders through the pseudo-life of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.  We follow him on his journey from a privileged childhood in pre-Nazi Vienna, to the heights of a pop  figure as the singing Rabbi who sets up shop in his hippie-laden temple of Love and Prayer in Haight-Ashbury during the thriving era of the New Age society.

SOUL DOCTOR could also use a surgeon to cut out much of the extraneous and trite dance numbers, seemingly inspired from FIDDLER  and HAIR.  They intrude into the already diffuse journey from devoted Rabbinic scholar to a cultural icon, always searching to heal the souls of the world, one at a time, while unable to heal his own.

The start of his conversion, in this saga, is his meeting with a then-unknown Jazz singer, Nina Simone, a night club singer and church soloist..  She teaches him how to reach a person's soul through music.  

The show is a series of hokey and stereotypical encounters --- from a senseless shooting of a singing yeshiva student by a Nazi soldier, to his meeting with an insightful phony "blind" singer in Washington Square Park.  She gives him her guitar and teaches him the few chords he needs to know to become the singing sensation of the 60s.

Unfortunately, we never get to see the inner Shlomo Carlebach, or learn who he really is   and why he embarks on this secular journey to find his place in God's world.

Eric Anderson physically and emotionally embodies Shlomo, and performs the pop versions of Carlebach's many religious melodies with appropriate intensity.  He is a relentless performer in a role that deifies the religious soul doctor who couldn't understand his own personal unfulfilled dreams.  The large and versatile cast fully supports the somewhat empty search.

I guess I shouldn't fault a show billed as "Based on the Real Life Story..." for the many missing and untold facts --- some, negative --- of what made Carlebach the man he was.  It all depends on who is telling the tale.

This is a show that was created for a specific target audience --- basically aimed at Jewish patrons.  And may appeal to Nina Simone fans as her character flits in and out of Shlomo's life.  But I'm not sure how it will resonate with the usual Broadway theatre-goers.  At the performance I attended, a huge number of males were wearing yamulkas.

As an entertainment, it is pandering, and draws applause, and hand-clapping to the music, but it is short on revelation and long on stereotype.



LOVE'S LABOURS LOST at the Public's Delacorte Theater

(Seen August 11, 2013)

Entertaining?  Fast-paced? Tongue-in-cheek?  Yes to all the above.  But is it Shakespeare  Hardly.  The story is there --- four young nobles forsaking women and worldly pursuits to study, uninterrupted by the raucous world.  And the occasional speeches and poems remain intact, but the essence is missing.  

Unlike the Public's  earlier venture this summer,  musicalizing COMEDY OF ERRORS --- which kept it's original story and spirit, while updating the events  -- this production goes far afield and loses focus. 

Book writer-director Alex Timbers has filled the pleasant bucolic setting with extraneous and intrusive characterizations and overly intensive dance numbers.   
It is loud and glitzy and schtick-filled, and its sometimes clever and bright dialogue is of a style that shouts: "See how clever I am!!!" (Triple exclamation points when none are necessary.)

The versatile cast is excellent in achieving the director's vision, but cannot overcome the material.  It is like a musical revue, where the dances and the songs are the stars, with the story somehow stringing them together.  I often felt like I was at a drag show, with all the men striving to show their feminine sides.   

While I believe that love --- and the absence of it --- can drive men to do strange things, it doesn't quite work out creatively in this case.  Although you couldn't tell that from the audience response --- it was definitely a crowd-pleaser.  

But unlike COMEDY OF ERRORS, I wouldn't want to use it to introduce  Shakespeare to new audiences.


HARBOR at Primary Stages (59E59)

(Seen August 9th, 2013)

For many, 'harbor' is a metaphor for a safe haven, where you are protected from nature's storms.  In this case,  unexpected and unwanted visitors turn this harbor into a disaster area.

In Chad Beguelin's new play. Kevin and Ted, a co-dependent gay couple who have been together for ten years, are living a happily satisfying life in Sag Harbor.  Ted is an older, successful architect who indulges his boy-toy partner, Kevin --- who has been talking about writing a novel for ten years, with nothing to show for it!

Kevin's sluttish older sister, pregnant and with her 15 year old daughter in tow, pounces into this somewhat idyllic household.  Havoc ensues in this unbelievable passing of events.  Issues of family duties and parenting run rampant, as the two women insinuate themselves into Ted and Kevin's prosaic life and lifestyle.

The play starts as a comedic sit-com, and ends as a soap opera tragedy.  Kevin's sister destroys his marriage and his relationship with Ted, further alienates her own daughter, and leaves with Kevin to act as a "mommy" for the unborn child.  The 15 year old precocious daughter remains with Ted, as if some sort of compensatory prize/burden to ease the loss of the man he loves.

It is an unlikely tale, with an unsatisfying and unreasonable conclusion.

The cast of actors is excellent, and they do what they can to bring these characters to life.  Paul Anthony Stewart, Randy Harrison, Erin Cummings, and Alexis Molnar, under director Mark Lamos' deft hand, create a lively, stereotypical, dysfunctional family, getting appreciative laughs and sobs.  


FIRST DATE at the Longacre Theatre

(Seen August 4th, 2013)

I know that 'silly' is not a critical word, but it aptly describes the goings-on of this first Broadway musical of the new season.  Its three male creators are Austin Winsberg who wrote the book, with music and lyrics by Alan Zachary & Michael Weiner.

Two opposite News York personalities meet for the title description, and it's also a blind date --- in many ways.  He, a Jewish yuppy: nerdish, nebbish, and reticent (at first).  She: flashy, sexy, agnostic, free spirit, normally dating the bad guys.  Naturally, after verbal clashes and revelations --- this being a feel-good musical --- the show ends with a warm, romantic hug and kiss.

Along the way, things sometimes get tedious.  But the two stars, Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez, are appealing in their down-beat roles, and they usually lift up our spirits with their up-beat performances.

They are backed by a quirky and talented ensemble of five players, who never miss a beat despite the hokiness of the material they are working with.  And they are all masters of the quick-change personalities and costumes.  These fun-seekers are Bryce Ryness, Kristoffer Cusick, Blake Hammond, Sara Chase, and Kate Loprest.  The proceedings are briskly directed by Bill Berry.

The show is sporadically clever, and even has its moments of sweetness and charm.  We don't have to root for the mis-matched lovers, because we're pretty sure from the start that they'll end up with a second date.


H20  at CATF/Shepherdstown, West Virginia

(Seen July 20, 2013)

When a story sounds like it's been ripped from the headlines of a gossip magazine, revealing the death of yet another young superstar, drowned in adulation, vast riches, and abundant drugs --- you might think you've heard it all before.  But Jane Martin has written a vivid, believable play that far outdoes what you might read in blogs and gossip sources.

What might seem a preposterous situation, and a pair of disparate lovers, achieves a sense of total reality, due to the creative team behind this intense drama.  First and foremost, there is Jane Martin, the secret playwright who was "born" in 1982 at the Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival, and whose true identity is still unknown in the theatre community.

Then there is director Jon Jory (who originally "discovered" Martin), whose sure hand guides this sterling piece of contemporary theatre to heights we haven't seen for some years.  And, of course, the two actors who so thoroughly inhabit their roles, so that you suffer with them in their emotional struggles.

Alex Podulke plays an actor who has amassed a following and a fortune by playing a super-hero in wordless mega-action films.  Deep into drugs,  he searches his persona to try to find out who he really is as an actor. A Broadwaqy producer brings him to New York to star in HAMLET, as his first stage appearance.  He is also given 'carte blanche' to cast his own Ophelia.

Diane Mair, plays an unknown, aspiring actress, who is a crusading, evangelical Christian who feels her talents are God-given, and that only through Christ can an actor achieve greatness.  She comes to his place for an audition, and is repelled, yet driven into his delusions and pains.  And these two brilliant performers carry through this tragic story of fame, love, and death, with virtuoso performances.

Everything happens before our eyes, as Jory has scene and costumes changes made in full view of the audience.  The cinematic flow of the of the piece keeps us emotionally involved and truly feeling the tragedy that ensues.

Hopefully, this production, intact, will make it to Broadway next season, so that once again New York audiences can see what's happening in our regional theatres.

[ This was a world premiere production, part of this season's five new plays at the CATF in Shepherdstown, West Virginia]


                                                            at Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre

(Seen July 2, 2013)

This mini-Madoff story reveals the destruction of a family when Tom Durnin, a high calibre lawyer, solicits investments from family and friends for a venture he knows is a fraud.  The play opens with his return after serving a five-year prison term -- disbarred and homeless.  His wife has divorced and re-married, while his son is alienated from him and an emotional mess, and his daughter has 'disowned' him.

Playwright Steven Levenson has Tom trying to re-establish his former relationships with his family, as if nothing had changed -- but to no avail, although he convinces his son to let him sleep on his couch until he finds a place of his own.  Tom is relentless in pushing his son, trying to black-mail his son-in-law, and blithely showing up unwanted at his ex-wife's home.  But nothing works out.

David Morse is a strong and persuasive presence as Tom, and Christopher Denham is perfectly dysfunctional as his son trying to move on with his life.  As a study of how a family destroys itself, the play succeeds.  But as a drama, it is tedious and over-written.

Director Scott Ellis smoothly moves the action forward, but there is really no place to go.  
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS at the Delacorte Theatre

(Seen June 21, 2013)

Dan Sullivan has conceived a somewhat modern Damon Runyon-esque version of Shakespeare's tale of mistaken identity, and two sets of long-lost twin brothers.  He has come up with a winning, thoroughly enjoyable romp.

Hamish Linklater plays both twins as Antipholus of Syracuse and of Ephesus, while Jesse Tyler Ferguson does double duty as their servants, Dromio of Syracuse and of Ephesus.  They are both accomplished comic actors, and triumphantly carry off the task of playing their double roles.

The entire company seems to be comfortable with the light-hearted gangster-style approach, with numerous modern dance intervals at each scene change.  The large supporting cast is excellent, with Jonathan Hadary in top form, and Emily Bergl and Heidi Schreck (Adriana and Luciana) happily and pertly effective.

It is a great example of a re-interpretation of Shakespeare that doesn't forget its roots.  And it's also a wonderful show to introduce young people unfamiliar with Shakespeare.  It deserves a continued life in New York.
BANANA MONOLOGUES at the Acorn Theatre

How many writers does it take to write a foul-mouthed, ridiculous, adolescent, put-down, one person show?  In this case it took three --- John Brennan, Jason Cooper, and Mary Cimino.  They obviously feel they have created a valid theatre piece, and have enlisted director Debra Whitfield to stage their egotistical diatribe.

A young, frustrated male is talking to and about his penis --- the banana of the title --- (and his alter ego named Sgt. Johnson).  This makes for juvenile laughs for some of the audience, but vulgarity and silliness is not enough to build a show on.

Brennan, the solo performer, tells his saga of his found/lost/found/lost  love affair with a puerile relish and a veneer of "listen to how clever I am".  This tasteless performance belongs in a bad wet dream, not on a stage.
THE SILVER CORD at the Theatre at St. Clement's

(Seen June 13, 2013)

Sidney Howard's 1926 drama, THE SILVER CORD, shows its age, with its creaky situations.  It comes across as  a Freudian textbook example of a over-possessive mother.  Mrs. Phelps, constantly manipulating her two sons, is determined that she should be the only woman in her sons' lives.  She goes to extreme measures to destroy the marriage of her older son, and convinces her younger son to break his engagement so that he can remain at home with her.

It's all very melodramatic, And maybe 90 years ago it was a new message about a mother's love.  And everyone plays it to the melodramatic hilt, as though this was real life.

But director Dan Wackerman has added another element.  He has inexplicably cast a man to play Mrs. Phelps.  While this might work in an Oscar Wilde drawing-room comedy, in this case it turns everything into a drag show, which only makes for even more explicit melodrama. 
HERE LIES LOVE at the Public Theater

(Seen May 5, 2013)

MURDER BALLAD at the Union Square Theatre

(Seen May 14, 2013)

These two shows have tangential alliances, other than the fact that they both detail love stories gone awry.  They each have forced what should be a conventional theatre piece into an environmental format.

HERE LIES LOVE has the audience moved about, as on a dance floor, theoretically to follow as the action moves to various stage areas.  MURDER BALLAD has the scenes pop up in various sections of a bar/club, with the audience straining to watch from various areas in order to see the story unfold.

Both pop-rock musicals are intense and driven, and feature highly talented performances.  But I feel that the creators have imposed an environmental approach in order to be different or experimental, not because it works better for the material.  It seems they have avoided a proscenium or theatre-in-the-round as a device.  At the Public Theatre, in fact, there are a limited number of seats in a balcony surrounding the space, where the audience can watch the show without being being constantly herded about by ushers.

HERE LIES LOVE, with "concept and lyrics" by David Byrne, and music by Byrne and Fatboy Slim, is a compelling story of the rise and fall of Imelda Marcos, strongly sung and acted by Ruthie Ann Miles, forcefully supported by Melody Butiu, Jose Llana, and Conrad Ricamora, along with an able ensemble cast, with driven direction by Alex Timbers.

MURDER BALLAD, with concept, book, and lyrics by Julia Jordan, and music and lyrics by Juliana Nash, is less epic, but still relentless in telling this story of love, passion, betrayal.  The ill-fated trio of lovers are passionately played and sung by Caisee Levy, Will Swenson, and John Ellison Conlee, with Rebecca Naomi Jones as a narrator/ringmaster to propel the story forward.  It is a strong work directed by Trip Cullman.

I would like to see these musical works again, in a proscenium or thrust stage format, where I could be more focussed on the material rather than the surroundings.


                                                                                 at the Kazino

(Seen May 11, 2013)

This is the most entertaining and likable musical of the season.  Its concept, demeanor, and realization are superb.  Dave Malloy has taken a section of Tolstoy's WAR AND PEACE, and created a musical that sings, soars, and has fun with its serious back story.

The producers have erected a huge "tent" under the Highline.  Its shabby exterior hides a veritable Russian palace ballroom/club, replete with chandeliers and rich drapery.  The large cast performs throughout the immense space, with playing areas all around.  They also visit at some of the many tables where the audience is seated, and perform the most unobtrusive interactions with the patrons --- who are enjoying their gourmet Russian feast, which is included as part of the ticket price.

Scenes move seamlessly throughout the areas, under the sure direction of Rachel Chavkin.  Phillipa Soo as Natasha, and Dave Malloy as Pierre, lead the huge and multi-talented cast through this epic presentation.  It is a great tribute to Dave Malloy's creative vision.

And even the wait-staff, many Russian-speaking and costumed, fit into the atmospherical surroundings in the Kazino.  This show was commissioned by Ars Nova, and originated there, before moving to its present luxurious setting.