Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lysistrata Jones: Is Fun Enough For Broadway?

Expectations can make all the difference in how you experience a show. I was expecting Bonnie and Clyde to be a disaster and I ended up liking it. I was all set for Lysistrata Jones to be my new favorite musical, and while I enjoyed myself, I left feeling disappointed. After a successful Transport Group run at the Gym at Judson this summer, Lysistrata Jones, which opened last night at the Walter Kerr Theatre, is now the lowest grossing show on Broadway. I am still rooting for it because I'd like to think that new musicals with no stars can succeed on Broadway, but as much as I want to tell you that I loved it, the best I can say is that it's a really fun show that could have used just a little more work.

If you took a sexed up High School Musical and combined it with Aristophanes' Lysistrata, you'd end up with Lysistrata Jones. Lyssie J (the always adorable Patti Murin) is a recent transfer student to Athens University. Her boyfriend Mick (Josh Segarra) is the team captain of the school basketball team, which hasn't won a game in 30 years. Lyssie forms a cheerleading squad with the other girlfriends of the basketball players, but when that fails to inspire them, feminist Robin (Lindsay Nicole Chambers) introduces her to Lysistrata (via Spark Notes). Lyssie convinces the other girls not to "give it up" until they win a game.

For all of the hilarity and originality of Douglas Carter Beane's book (and there is a lot of it), there are also some cheap laughs in the form of stereotypical characters that have been seen in countless teen movies. And while there is some great raunchy humor, the material is surprisingly safe. Lewis Flinn's score is appropriately poppy. Director Dan Knechtges's basketball choreography is a highlight of the show as is an absolutely charming dance performed by Jason Tam as nerdy activist Xander. Tam brought audiences to tears as Paul in A Chorus Line and here gets a chance to show that he is a gifted physical comedian as well. The young cast is talented and energetic and seem to be having a ball, but there are only 12 of them, leaving the stage feeling a bit empty.

As much as I like to think that there's room for everything on Broadway, some shows are better suited to smaller spaces. Lysistrata Jones could have probably done well in an off-Broadway commercial run. Is it too late for a transfer to New World Stages?

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Confession: I Enjoyed Bonnie & Clyde

Bonnie & Clyde wasn't everything that I wanted it to be, but I was entertained, I saw some great performers, and I was introduced to a memorable new Broadway score. That's more than I can say for many shows I've seen on Broadway. It certainly isn't the train wreck that some of the reviews make it out to be.

The musical Bonnie & Clyde--not based on the 1967 Arthur Penn movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway--claims to be the most accurate telling of the story of bank robbers Bonnie Parker (Laura Osnes) and Clyde Barrow (Jeremy Jordan). The show starts off with a literal bang as the couple is shot to death in their car. At a talkback after, director Jeff Calhoun explained that he wanted to get that iconic image out of the way at the beginning to be able to tell the story without everyone waiting for that moment, which was a smart decision. From there, the show limps a bit as we have to put up with seeing Bonnie and Clyde as children (played by Talon Ackerman and Kelsey Fowler) dreaming big dreams. One thing the show gets right is that even though it explains how Bonnie and Clyde became killers--Clyde was driven to his first murder after being raped and beaten in prison--it doesn't try to justify or glorify their actions. The show paints them as celebrity driven from the beginning. Unfortunately because of all of this backstory, Ivan Menchell's book lacks a lot of the excitement you'd expect from a show about outlaws.

Jeff Calhoun's direction combined with the visual elements overcome a lot of the book problems. Aaron Rhyne's projections show images of the real Bonnie and Clyde and the depression era which add historic context. This is most compelling when mug shots are taken of characters on stage and the real mug shots are projected. And Frank Wildhorn's gospel and country-infused score is unlike anything he's ever done. It's catchy and at times quite lovely (just don't pay too much attention to Don Black's lyrics) and performed by the powerful voices of current Broadway It Boy Jordan and Osnes, who would probably be the sexiest on-stage couple on Broadway right now if not for Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy in Venus in Fur. Claybourne Elder is appealing as Clyde's loyal brother Buck, but is underused. One of the best discoveries of the show is Melissa van der Schyff as Buck's wife Blanche--the most fascinating character in both the movie and the musical, even though van der Schyff makes the role her own (she has never seen the film).

Tickets to Bonnie & Clyde are only being sold through December 30 even though the show hasn't announced a closing notice (which seems like a terrible strategy, but I digress), so if you don't want to miss it, go now. You might find yourself being pleasantly surprised.

As I mentioned, after the show, we attended a talkback with Calhoun, scenic and costume designer Tobin Ost, Elder and van der Schyff. One of my favorite tidbits (aside from Calhoun honestly acknowledging how unfair he thought the reviews were) was that there was a song called "This Has Never Happened Before" about Clyde's impotence, but when they learned that the plot point was invented for the movie, they cut it. I hope to one day hear that song.

Later, Elder and van der Schyff ended up at our table, charming us with their Michael Crawford impressions. Elder told us about "Bits O' Buck"--a mason jar where he keeps the blood and brains that he scrapes off himself before curtain call (see a picture he tweeted here) And then Elder showed us a video that changed all our lives: "I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper" starring Phantom of the Opera's own Sarah Brightman. Watch it now. Your life will never be the same.

Photo credit: Nathan Johnson

Mamma Mia!: How Can I Resist You

In my lifetime, only two shows have played Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre, Cats (fun fact: Cats opened the month I was born) and Mamma Mia! Since I hadn't seen Cats until long after it had closed on Broadway and I'd only seen Mamma Mia! in its pre-Broadway Los Angeles run in 2001 and in London in 2003, the Winter Garden was the one hurdle keeping me from my goal of seeing a show in every current Broadway house. So when I got an invitation to a Mamma Mia! blogger night, I had to go check the Winter Garden off my list and of course, see how the show is doing after 10 years on Broadway.

Before the show, we were also invited to Two Boots to try out the new Mamma Mia! pizza--sopressata and sweet Italian sausage with red pepper pesto on a white pie. I don't eat meat, so I enjoyed a cheese slice, but the meat-eaters seemed to enjoy The Mamma Mia.

As for the show, you probably already know whether or not you're going to like it, depending on how you feel about ABBA music and jukebox musicals. I am in more in the "you already know you're going to love it" (the tagline of the show) camp. Look, it's not life-changing theater, but it is fun theater. It's escapist theater. It would also make for a good bachelorette party as it is about a wedding (plus, it has guys dancing in no shirts and scuba gear).

Mamma Mia! is about a young woman's quest to find her father before she gets married. On an island in Greece, 20-year-old bride-to-be Sophie (Liana Hunt) has never known who her father is, but she finds an old diary belonging to her mother Donna (Lisa Brescia) and figures out that she has three potential fathers. She invites them all to the wedding.

The best thing about the show is the way the ABBA songs are integrated into the plot. For example, when Donna's best friends are comforting her and they break out into "Chiquita." I enjoyed the show more the first time I saw it because of the element of surprise, but I still think it's a cleverly put-together show (Catherine Johnson wrote the book connecting the songs by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus). I recently saw Jersey Boys again (also my first time seeing it on Broadway) and I think that has held up better, maybe because the costumes, sets, and dialogue aren't as cheesy, but it also hasn't been around as long.

If you've never seen the show or have been thinking of revisiting, Mamma Mia! is having its first ever winter sale. Every orchestra seat is $49 to $79 from January 9 to March 4, but you must purchase by December 24 (last minute Christmas or Chanukah gift, anyone?). Click here for full details.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Contest: Last Chance For Follies Tickets!

Update: The contest is now closed and the winner has been contacted. The winner was picked at random from all the entries. Thank you to everybody who entered.

Follies, currently playing at the Marquis on Broadway, must end on January 22. If you've been putting off seeing it, you're running out of time. But I have some good news, Follies fans. Since the last Follies contest was so popular, I have a final pair of tickets to give away.

To be entered to win tickets, tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it (only one tweet or retweet will count for an extra entry). If you enter this way, you must be following me on Twitter to win. If you don't have a Twitter account, you can leave a comment here telling me why you want to win tickets. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle in the comments so I have a way to contact you if you win. The contest will end on Friday, December 9 at 3 p.m. Good luck!

Special discount offer through December 25 only!

$97 Orch/Front Mezz (reg. $137) $74 (reg. $87) Mid Mezz

Click Here and enter code 3NEDEB

Call Ticketmaster at: 877-250-2929 and mention code 3NEDEB

Visit The Marquis Theater box office (46th between Broadway and 8th ave)

*Restrictions and blackout dates may apply.

Review: The Cherry Orchard at CSC

Earlier this season, John Turturro directed the mostly forgettable Relatively Speaking on Broadway, but there is nothing forgettable about his performance as Lopakhin in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard at the Classic Stage Company. There is a moment when he breaks out in manic dance alone that perfectly captures Lopakhin, forever socially awkward.

For those unfamiliar with the play, a widow, Ranevskaya (an equally captivating Dianne Wiest), returns to her home in Russia after being away for years in France. She has fallen into debt and is soon to lose her estate and cherry orchard in an auction. Lopakhin, a wealthy merchant from poor beginnings, tries to convince her to cut down the cherry orchard and divide the land into lots to be leased out for summer cottages.

Translated by John Christopher Jones and directed by Andrei Belgrader, this Cherry Orchard is fast and funny, accessible and modern, clocking in at only two hours and 15 minutes including intermission. Though it highlights the comedic elements (Chechov did intend the play as a comedy), the suffering of the characters is not lost, thanks to some fine performances. Take Juliet Rylance, who plays Ranevskaya's daughter and housekeeper Varya. Rylance makes Varya's longing for Lopakhin, who everyone says she should marry though he never asks, palpable. Alvin Epstein as the old footman Fiers perhaps most exemplifies the dualities of the play--the comedy and heartbreak--as he shuffles across the stage muttering to himself.

The one misstep is the decision to break the fourth wall (usually done by Carlotta, the governess, played by Roberta Maxwell). It doesn't add anything to the production, which is already intimate enough without having to make the audience a part of it.

Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Class Is In Session

An acting class is currently being given at the Golden Theatre, but it's in the guise of a play about writing and writers. That play is Theresa Rebeck's Seminar.

In the funny but slight play, Alan Rickman--best known for playing another professor--stars as Leonard, an author who has chosen four students to be a part of his writing seminar. Rickman should teach a master class in pausing--every pause has so much weight. Though Rickman is the main draw, this is very much an ensemble piece. It's hard to believe that Hamish Linklater is making his Broadway debut as the awkward Martin, but even without the floppy hair he sported in his recent off-Broadway roles, he still proves to be one of the finest actors of his generation. Jerry O'Connell as the privileged but well-meaning Douglas and Hettiene Park as the sexy Izzy also make assured Broadway debuts. I was one of the few not enraptured by Lily Rabe's Portia, but she won me over as Kate, somehow taking a self-pitying character and making her (at least somewhat) likable.

Anybody who has spent time with writers will recognize some of the pretentious conversations in the play, and Rebeck's dialogue is consistently amusing. However, the actions of the characters don't always feel earned. Fortunately for Rebeck, she has director Sam Gold, making his Broadway debut, at the helm. Gold's production is so smooth and the acting is so strong that it's easy to overlook some of the inconsistencies.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Getting Married Today

At the Minetta Lane Theare, you can experience the joy of weddings in 10 minute increments and you don't have to worry about buying a gift or getting stuck at a bad table. Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays features a rotating cast of six performing nine short plays about gay marriage by well-known playwrights. The staged reading format worked for Love, Loss, and What I Wore and Standing on Ceremony should also be able to run for years.*

Harriet Harris, Craig Bierko, Mark Consuelos, Polly Draper, Beth Leavel, and Richard Thomas are all able to create convincing characters in these short snapshots. Most of the plays are comedic and the funniest is Paul Rudnick's My Husband, in which Harris plays an overbearing Jewish mother who just wants her son (Mark Consuelos) to get married already (I'm sure most singles, gay or straight, can relate). Another highlight is Neil LaBute's Strange Fruit featuring Consuelos and Bierko, which starts off with some raunchy humor and ends with a horrifying twist. The most moving is Moises Kaufman's "London Mosquitos" about a man (Thomas) giving a eulogy for his partner.

The only problem with a show like this is that it feels one-sided (a few of the plays feature crazy conservatives) and preaching to the choir. The people who are going to see it already support gay marriage, when the goal is presumably not just to entertain, but to inform. But the shows might help educate the public through other methods as a portion of all ticket sales go to Freedom to Marry and other organizations promoting marriage equality.

Standing on Ceremony is hosting a contest on their Facebook page to win tickets for a party of 20 which includes a free drink.

*The producers announced on November 29 that Standing On Ceremony will close on December 18.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You're Safe and Sound Now Back In Good Old 1955

Who hasn't watched an old television show or movie and thought how much simpler life would be in those times? For the characters in Jordan Harrison's Maple and Vine at Playwrights Horizons, the appeal of living in a different time is not that life was easier, but more complicated. Not only were there no modern conveniences like Internet, cell phones, and takeout, there was also less tolerance.

Married couple Katha (Marin Ireland) and Ryu (Peter Kim) don't know how to enjoy life again after her miscarriage. Katha is so depressed that she decides to quit her job. That day, she meets a stranger in the park who looks like he walked out of the 1950s. It turns out his name is Dean (Trent Dawson) and he lives in a community that lives life as in 1955 (always the same year). This idea appeals to Katha who convinces Ryu to move there for a six-month trial period, even if it means giving up his job as a plastic surgeon to pack boxes.

Harrison could flesh out the characters further as sometimes their motivations are confusing. It turns out that Dean is gay and he chooses to be married to a woman rather than be out in his own time. Katha encourages the community to be more intolerant of them as a mixed race couple so that their experience can be more authentic. It is distancing to not understand the characters, but it is also fascinating to consider their psychology. I have often daydreamed about going back in time, and the play has given me a lot to think about.


Regular run: November 19-December 23
Tues 7, Wed-Fri at 8, Sat at 2:30 & 8, Sun at 2:30 & 7:30
Additional Monday evening perfs Nov 21, Dec 5, and Dec 19

Order by November 30 and use the code VINEGR
$40 (reg. $70) for all performances Nov. 19-27
$50 (reg. $70) for all other performances Nov. 29-Dec. 23

Click here to order online or call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 Noon to 8PM daily
In Person: Ticket Central Box Office, 416 W. 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues

Monday, November 21, 2011

Contest: Win Tickets to Silence! The Musical

Update: The contest is now closed. Thank you to everybody who entered. The winner was picked at random from all the entries. Congratulations stagemaven!

Silence! The Musical--The Unauthorized Parody of The Silence of The Lambs opened this summer at Theatre 80 to positive reviews. It is now playing an open run at The 9th Space Theatre at Performance Space 122 and I have a pair of tickets to give away.

To be entered to win a pair of tickets, tell me in the comments what movie you'd like to see get the musical spoof treatment. For an extra entry, tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it (only one tweet or retweet will count for an extra entry). The winner will be chosen at random on Monday, December 5 at noon. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle in the comments so I have a way to contact you if you win. Good luck!

SPECIAL OFFER: $39 (reg $59)
1- CLICK HERE or visit and enter code HHCGEN39. Please select the REGULAR SEATS (FBI HEADQUARTERS) section on the online seating chart.

2- Call 212-352-3101 and mention code HHCGEN39.

3- Bring a print out of this offer to The 9th Space Theatre at P.S. 122, 150 First Avenue. Box office is open for walk-up sales. See hours below.

RESTRICTIONS: Offer valid through December 30th. Offer may be revoked at anytime and is subject to availability. Not valid on prior purchase. Offer cannot be combined with other discounts or promotions; blackout dates and restrictions may apply. Maximum of 4 tickets total with offer.
Box Office Hours:
Monday/Tuesday/Thursday 4pm to 8pm
Friday 4pm to 10:30pm
Saturday 2pm to 10:30pm
Sunday 2pm to 5pm

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sex in the Settee

Noël Coward's Private Lives gets revived on Broadway every ten years or so. I can't complain because the current Broadway revival, which opened Thursday at the Music Box Theatre, is the first opportunity I've had to see the play. But those that have seen it may wonder about the necessity of another mounting. The success of the play hinges on who is cast as the two leads. Right now, Paul Gross and Kim Cattrall are making a pretty convincing case for this revival.

Gross and Cattrall play Elyot and Amanda, a couple that have been divorced for five years. They meet again while honeymooning in neighboring rooms with balconies. (It's Noël Coward. Suspend your disbelief.) It doesn't take long to realize they still have passionate feelings for each other, so they run away to her flat in Paris. During intermission, Rob Howell's set is transformed from the exterior of a hotel to a deliciously tacky flat, complete with ducks on the walls and a giant fishbowl.

Gross and Cattrall are a sexy pair and believable as a couple who alternate between wanting to sleep together or kill each other. Fans of Cattrall in Sex in the City (confession: I am one) may see a little bit of Samantha Jones in Amanda with her progressive sexual ideas, but Cattrall is not rehashing that role. She gets at the many layers of Amanda and when the play starts, you get the sense that she could be happy with her new husband, the stuffy Victor (Simon Paisley Day). Gross, who my Canadian friend explained to me is their Tom Cruise, cuts quite the dashing figure and has comedic timing to boot. The rest of the cast, though they don't have as much to do, is strong as well, in particular Day, who manages to give Victor a little bit of an edge so he doesn't come off as a one-note stick in the mud.

As entertaining as most of the play is in these capable hands, the second act starts to drag and director Richard Eyre could have perhaps better tackled the problematic physical abuse. But then again, the play was written in 1930 and I don't think everything needs to be reworked to be made palatable for modern audiences. Still, it's hard to laugh at a couple slapping each other around.

Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jerry O'Connell: The Most Adorable Man on Broadway*

Last night, I attended a blogger night of the new Theresa Rebeck play Seminar. I'll wait until the show officially opens to post my review, but I can tell you about the meet and greet with Jerry O'Connell after the show. O'Connell, known for films like Jerry Maguire and Stand By Me, is making his Broadway debut as the privileged Douglas, one of the students in Leonard's (Alan Rickman) writing seminar.

Usually at these events, there's an awkward silence until somebody is brave enough to ask the first question, but O'Connell just said (after shaking everybody's hands), "Where should I start?" and without even waiting for an answer, decided to start by talking about Alan Rickman. He spoke about just watching Rickman act. He spoke about how everyone in the cast has been so terrific and helpful and welcoming. He told us about going out with his castmates after the show and how they fight over the jukebox, though it's mostly Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe who get into debates about the music (O'Connell said he's happy with some Britney.) He said sometimes Rickman joins them and that he always tries to pick up the check. He told us about how he's auditioned for a few Rebeck shows and they've never worked out and he really chased this part (the producer told us that since O'Connell came from LA to audition, he was the only one who didn't get coached by director Sam Gold, and he nailed the audition better than anyone). He told us how he's a New Yorker and how happy he is to be back here, taking his children on the subway. All the while, he was funny, enthusiastic, and charming. Even when the Q&A was over, he kept wondering what else he could tell us. And after he was finished speaking to us, he went out the stage door and took pictures and signed for the fans outside. He seems like a true class act. Welcome to Broadway, Mr. O'Connell. You can stay.

*Credit to @Corellianjedi2 for giving O'Connell that title.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Talking Chinglish

What would you think if you saw a sign saying "Fuck the certain price of goods"? You probably wouldn't guess that it's a translation of a Chinese sign reading "Dry Goods Pricing Department." This is the jumping off point for Chinglish. Daniel Cavanaugh (Gary Wilmes), an American, sees an opportunity for his company to manufacture signs in Guiyang, China, given that the translations are so often embarrassingly incorrect. Peter Timms (Stephen Pucci), an Englishman fluent in Mandarin is Daniel's consultant. They meet with Minister Cai Guoliang (Larry Lei Zhang) and Vice Minister Xi Yan (Jennifer Lim). In David Henry Hwang's comedy, nobody is exactly who they seem to be.

Hwang and director Leigh Silverman spoke about the play at a digital press event. The characters in Chinglish communicate in both English and Mandarin, and one of the most effective elements of the play is the easy-to-follow translations. Silverman said: "Something that was very important for me as the director was to figure out how we were going to use translation in the play because it's thematically important because our American businessman is selling signage. So the idea of signs and translation and language is very important and I really feel like language and communication is a character in the play. I wanted to figure out how to effortlessly give the audience the chance to understand everything that was happening in the play while also literally watching the action of the play so that it didn't feel like opera. It didn't feel like you had to look outside of the frame. It felt like it was part of the fabric and essentially the DNA of the play were these translations. I think what we learned in Chicago when we did it at the Goodman was in fact the translation portion of it engaged the audience in a way that I think we hadn't expected because literally the audience is the only character who understands everything that's happening, so it gives the audience complete satisfaction in a way to know everything that's being said. Figuring that piece of it out was really crucial in terms of delivering what I feel is the comedy of the play and the fun of the play and the brilliance of the play."

When we saw Chinglish, my friend Emily wondered why the English dialogue wasn't translated into Chinese. At the press event, Silverman said that they are considering options for what they can do with the supertitles, especially if the show tours.

One of the most surprising stories to come out of the press event came from Hwang. In a comic highlight of the play, Angela Lin hilariously plays a very bad translator (I wanted more of her in the play). In another scene, Johnny Wu plays an equally incompetent translator. While this may seem like an exaggeration, Hwang revealed that he had a similar experience when he and Silverman visited Guiyang: "One thing that I really noted from the trip was the quality of interpretation in Guiyang of the interpreters was not particularly high. I was supposed to give a speech to local artists and cultural officials called Artists in the Age of Commerce, in other words, how does an artist operate in a capitalist culture, and they assigned as my translator this very sweet guy, but his only qualification was that he'd lived in London in for a year. He had no capacity to translate any of the ideas that I was talking about and he knew it too and was kind of terrified the whole time. We finally got someone on our team to do the translation and then let him read it, so it all kind of worked out. I feel like I'm actually rather generous to the quality of translators in Guiyang in the play."

Photo credit: Michael McCabe

Contest: Win Tickets to Lysistrata Jones

Update: The contest is now closed. Thank you to everybody who entered. I loved reading all your costume ideas and I'd like to give you all tickets. The winners were picked completely at random from all the entries. Congratulations Amanda S. and dbee!

Trick or treat! I have a treat for you. I'm celebrating Halloween (and my birthday) by giving away TWO pairs of tickets to see Lysistrata Jones on Broadway. In this version of Aristophanes's Lysistrata, the Athens University student Lysistrata Jones dares the basketball squad's girlfriends to stop sleeping with their boyfriends until they win a game. I was bummed when I missed the Transport Group production, which was performed in an actual gym, so I can't wait to see this show. The entire cast of the off-Broadway production is transferring. Since book-writer Douglas Carter Beane did such wonders with the Xanadu book, I'm expecting a fun show. Lewis Flinn wrote the music and lyrics.

In honor of Halloween, tell me in the comments your best theater-related Halloween costume idea. For an extra entry, tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it. (Please tell me in your entry if you do this. Only one tweet or retweet will count for an extra entry.) TWO winners will be chosen at random (each winner will receive a pair of tickets) on Friday, November 4 at 5 p.m. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle in the comments so I have a way to contact you if you win. Good luck!

Discount offer:
Get special $50 tickets to LYSISTRATA JONES for 12 performances only! Performances begin on November 12!

Visit and enter code LJPVW50

Call: 212.947.8844

Go to the Walter Kerr Theatre box office, 219 W. 48th St. between Broadway and 8th Ave., with this coupon and mention code LJPVW50

*Offer valid on all performances November 11 – November 23, 2011. Certain other blackout dates may apply. Subject to availability and prior. Not valid on previously purchased tickets and may not be combined with other offers. Applicable only to specified performance dates and times. All sales are final; no refunds or exchanges. Valid on select locations only. Seating restrictions may apply. Telephone/internet orders subject to standard service fees. When purchasing at box office, present offer prior to ticket inquiry. Offer may be revoked at any time. Limit 19 tickets per person per week. Offer expires Nov. 23, 2011.

Photos are from the Gym at Judson production

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Milk Like Sugar at Playwrights Horizons

In 2008, the media was buzzing with the story of
a pregnancy pact made by teens in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Kirsten Greenidge was inspired to write Milk Like Sugar, an engaging and enlightening play, which premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in August and opens at Playwrights Horizons on November 1.

Milk Like Sugar starts off light, with Beyonce blasting and three teenage girls at a tattoo parlor, discussing the appeal of certain boys based on their cell phones. But the conversation soon reveals that one of the girls, Margie (Nikiya Mathis), is pregnant, and ecstatic about it, dreaming about Coach diaper bags. She convinces her two friends Talisha (Cherise Boothe) and Annie (Angela Lewis) that they should all get pregnant at the same time, so that they can have a baby shower together.

The story follows Annie, torn between wanting to please her friends and the desire to escape her life and go to college. The appeal of a baby who will love her unconditionally is great for Annie, who feels neglected by her mother Myrna (Tonya Pinkins), but there are various influences--her ambitious crush Malik (J. Mallory-McCree), the tattoo artist Antwoine (LeRoy McClain), her new religious friend Keera (Adrienne C. Moore)--pulling her in every direction--literally illustrated by director Rebecca Taichman in choreographed scene changes.

Pinkins, the big name here, delivers a memorable performance, but the young actors are all ones to watch. It's especially hard to turn away from Lewis when she is on the stage and Mathis gets big laughs as the lovable but dim-witted Margie.

This is an educational piece for someone whose realm of experience is so different from that of these girls, or for vulnerable young girls like the characters portrayed, but Greenidge smartly avoids passing judgment.


Order by October 25 and use the code MILKGR
$40 (reg. $55) for all performances Oct. 13-Nov 20

Call: (212) 279-4200 Noon to 8PM daily
In Person: Ticket Central Box Office, 416 W. 42nd Street

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What I Did Last Night

Last night, I went to ANT Fest at Ars Nova for the first time. This is the fourth year of the festival dedicated to emerging artists. From October 18 through November 19, you can see concerts, sketch comedy, musical theater, and more for $10 a ticket.

Last night's show was called Ant Tunes, featuring musical excerpts from Lightning Man and Mortality Play. Lightning Man, with music by Jeffrey Dennis Smith, lyrics by Shoshana Greenberg (full disclosure: she's a friend of mine) and Katya Stanislavskaya, and book by Maggie-Kate Coleman, is based on the true story of a seven-time lightning strike survivor who commits suicide at the age of 71. Mortality Play, with music by Scotty Arnold and lyrics by Alana Jacoby, is about a young wannabe rock star trying to find his place in 1349 London.

The shows are not open to review, but I can say that if last night's show is any indication, there will be a lot of up-and-coming talent at Ars Nova in the next few weeks. As a bonus, Ars Nova has cheap drinks and snacks, so your whole evening of entertainment may end up being cheaper than a night at a bar. You can see the complete lineup here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Contest: Win Tickets to Standing on Ceremony

Update: The contest is now closed. Thank you to everybody who entered. The winner was picked completely at random from the entries. Congratulations to Randi!

Neil LaBute. Wendy MacLeod. Moisés Kaufman. José Rivera. Paul Rudnick. Doug Wright. Mo Gaffney. Jordan Harrison. Jeffrey Hatcher. This group of playwrights has two Pulitzer Prizes, four Obies, one Emmy, and three Tony nominations. They also wrote the seven short plays that make up Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, which starts previews on November 7 at the Minetta Lane Theatre. The plays star Craig Bierko, Mark Consuelos, Polly Draper, Beth Leavel, Richard Thomas, and Harriet Harris.

A portion of all ticket sales will be donated to Freedom to Marry and other organizations promoting marriage equality. I'm very excited to give away a pair of tickets to a show that supports this important cause. To be entered to win, write a comment on this post about why you want to see the show (a description of each play can be found here). For an extra entry, tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it (only one tweet or retweet will count for an extra entry). The winner will be chosen at random on Friday, October 28 at 5 p.m. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle in the comments so I have a way to contact you if you win. Good luck!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

When Steve Jobs died on October 5 at the young age of 56, my Twitter feed was filled with messages about him, all positive. I think that's the first time I saw so many Twitter reactions completely without snark. People clearly felt a strong connection to this man. Monologist Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs started previews at the Public Theater a week later, on October 11, and opened last night (he has performed the show around the country). Jobs's death was incorporated into the show (Daisey doesn't work with a set script), but his look at the man and the company he created is no less critical.

It helps that Daisey is an Apple aficionado. He was one of the people who worshipped at the house of Jobs, but then one day he saw photos mistakenly left on iPhone taken by workers at a Chinese factory to test the camera on the phone. He began to wonder about the origins of his phone. He went to Shenzhen in China and visited Foxconn, the world's largest electronics manufacturer. He explains the conditions at the factory--the cafeteria, the dormitories, the nets used as a response to mass suicides, breaking up the stories about his own experiences in China with the history of Apple.

Two hours is a long time to listen to one man speak, but anyone who has seen Daisey perform (which I hadn't until last week) knows what a dynamic presence he is. Looking a bit like a cartoon character sitting behind his desk, constantly wiping his sweaty brow, shifting between a gentle and loud voice, he commands attention. The production, directed by his wife Jean-Michele Gregory, is simple, with Daisey sitting behind a desk, and not much more is needed. Suspense is added by Seth Reiser's lighting.

Daisey speaks about hearing the news of Jobs's death in a surprisingly moving end: "He was my hero. He was the only hero I ever had." As the audience wandered out of the theater, I overheard many grappling with turning on their beloved iPhones, but at the end of the day, this show is probably not going to make anyone give up technology or iProducts. And that's not what Daisey is advocating. What it will do is educate. And that's a good first step. (Flyers are handed out at the end of the show with more information about what you can do if you are compelled to take action.)

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Friday, October 07, 2011

Following Up With The Tempest Ladies

Remember when I told you about The Tempest Ladies? If that profile piqued your interest, the theater troupe released two videos of their production of The Tempest and are in the process of scheduling tour dates across the country. While you wait for the chance to see them live, watch the teaser:

The Tempest - Teaser from Tempest Ladies on Vimeo.

and the full trailer:

The Tempest - Trailer from Tempest Ladies on Vimeo.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Contest: Win Tickets to Chinglish

Update: The contest is now closed. Thank you to everybody who entered. The winners were picked at random from all the entries. Congratulations to Erin and Sarah P!

Of the new plays opening on Broadway this fall, the one that intrigues me the most is David Henry Hwang's Chinglish, which starts previews on October 11. The play, direct from Chicago's Goodman Theatre, is about an American businessman trying to launch a new enterprise in China. It's performed in both English and Mandarin (with English subtitles), which I'm assuming is a first for Broadway. Watch this video to learn more about the play:

To be entered to win a pair of tickets, tell me in the comments the funniest incorrectly translated sign that you've seen. If you can't think of one, you can tell me in the comments why you want to see the show. For an extra entry, tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it (only one tweet or retweet will count for an extra entry). TWO winners will be chosen at random (each winner will receive a pair of tickets) on Friday, September 30 at 5 p.m. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle in the comments so I have a way to contact you if you win. Good luck!

For an over $35% discount through November 13th:
Call 212-947-8844 and mention code CDDMX815
Visit and use code CGDMX815
Visit the Longacre Theatre Box Office (220 W. 48th Street) and mention code CGDMX815
Orchestra/Front Mezz: $74.50 - $79.50 (regularly $116.50 - $121.50)
Rear Mezz: $62.50 - $66.50 (regularly $86.50 - $91.50)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Recommended Theater: After

When I heard about the execution of Troy Davis, who may or may not have been guilty, I couldn't help but think about Partial Comfort's After. In Chad Beckim's play, Monty (Alfredo Narcisco), convicted of rape at the age of 17, is finally cleared by DNA evidence after serving 17 years in prison.

Although After raises questions about our justice system, it is (fortunately) not overtly political. Beckim tells a very human story of people just trying to get by. Director Stephen Brackett smartly takes things slow, even though the show runs only 90 minutes.

In a sense, all the characters are imprisoned. Monty lives with the only family he has left, his sister Liz (Maria-Christina Oliveras), a workaholic who has just as much starting over to do as her brother. Monty's co-worker at doggy day care, Warren (Debargo Sanyal, who plays him too much like a caricature), is forced to be there because his father is the owner, even though he would rather be programming computer games. After so many years in prison, Monty is incapable of making decisions for himself. On a trip to CVS, he is overwhelmed by the selection of toothbrushes until sales associate Susie (Jackie Chung) offers to help him. She is spunky and eager, providing much of the comic relief, but as their relationship evolves, she starts to reveal her insecurities.

Monty isn't much of a talker, but Narcisco reveals so much with his facial expressions--pain, confusion, joy. His performance as a 17-year-old trapped in a 34-year-old's body is heartbreaking.

Tickets are only $18, so you have no excuse not to see After at The Wild Project. For an even better deal, Wednesdays are pay what you can.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


"I'm really glad they didn't have Facebook when I was a teenager," I said to my friend after a performance of Facebook Me at the Soho Playhouse. Middle and high school are tough enough without an even easier way to spread gossip and make others feel inferior. Facebook Me was written by and stars the teenage girls of the Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company, created in 2007.

Each character in the play will feel familiar--either because you knew her or were her. They deal with body images, jealousy, sexuality, fights with friends, all intensified through Facebook statuses, where everyone can see what you're doing all the time. For example, Liv (Sophie Hearn) made out with her best friend Nicky (Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart) at a party to impress a boy and a video was posted on Facebook. Now that boy won't accept Liv's "in a relationship" status and friends are shunning Nicky because they think she's gay.

Directors Katie Cappiello and Meg McInerney have done an admirable job of staging the play so that the many storylines flow. Only the beginning of the play, where everybody speaks over each other, is confusing. This is an effective way to set up the overwhelming nature of Facebook, but it goes on for too long. The talented actresses are all between the ages of 13 to 15, which adds an authenticity to the play.

Some of the behavior portrayed in the show doesn't just apply to teenagers. Stella (Eliza Price) is helping her friend Sarah (Danielle Stefania) start her first Facebook page. Sarah just wants to be herself, a girl who loves Molly Ringwald movies and The Muppets, but Stella says she needs to be a different, more adult version of herself on Facebook. How many people are guilty of creating different personas online? Everybody using social media, no matter what age, could probably learn something from this play.

Remaining performances are Sat 9/24 @ 2, Sat 9/24 @ 9:30, and Sun 9/25 @ 2 at the Soho Playhouse.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Contest: Win Tickets to Follies

Update: The contest is now closed. Thank you to everybody who entered. The correct answers were:
1) 5 (I counted Gypsy)
2) The Royal Family and Lend Me A Tenor
3) Gloria Swanson
The winners were picked at random from the correct answers. Congratulations to Bonnie and Greene!

Follies was the first musical to open on Broadway this fall, and what a way to kick off the season. It received mostly rave reviews and even some early Tony talk. Eric Shaeffer's production of James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning musical transferred to the Marquis Theatre from The Kennedy Center. The cast of 41 includes two-time Tony winner Bernadette Peters, four-time Tony nominee Jan Maxwell, two-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein, three-time Emmy nominee Ron Raines, and Olivier Award winner Elaine Paige.

To be entered to win tickets, you must answer three trivia questions correctly in the comments section of this post.

The questions are:
1) How many Stephen Sondheim shows has Bernadette Peters starred in on Broadway?
2) Jan Maxwell was nominated for two Tony Awards in the same year. What two shows was she nominated for?
3) It is said that Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman based the show off a photograph of what famous actress?

I have enabled comment moderation until the contest ends. TWO winners will be chosen at random (each winner will receive a pair of tickets) on Friday, September 23 at 5 p.m. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle in the comments so I have a way to contact you if you win. Good luck!

Save on tickets with the discount offer 2BUDDY.**

Purchase Now Through November 6

$97 Orchestra/Front Mezz (reg. $135/$125)

$75 Mid Mezz (reg. $95/$85)

Call: 877-250-2929 Online:

Visit: The Marquis Theater, 46th Street between Broadway and 8th Ave.


**Conditions: Valid for performances through 10/2/11 All prices include $2 facilities fees. Limit 8 tickets per order. Offer subject to availability and prior sale. ALL SALES FINAL. No refunds or exchanges. Telephone and Internet sales are subject to standard service fees. Offer may be revoked at any time or modified at any time without notice.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Thursday, September 15, 2011

FRINGE ENCORE SERIES: PigPen Presents: The Mountain Song

The new college graduates that make up the all-male PigPen Theater Company are doing well for themselves so far. This summer, PigPen became the first company to win the top honor for a play at the Fringe Festival. Company members were still students at Carnegie Mellon last summer when they won overall excellence in a production for The Nightmare Story. The Mountain Song is their first production as official New Yorkers.

The Mountain Song is a fable told by a mountain about a father searching for his mute daughter. The story holds up on its own, but what makes this a worthwhile theater experience is the way its told with the use shadow puppets, folk music, and other inventive bits of lighting and staging. The goofy and likeable cast is made up of seven skilled musicians and natural storytellers--Arya Shahi, Ben Ferguson, Dan Weschler, Ryan Melia, Curtis Gillen, Alex Falberg, and Matt Nuernberger.

I don't think these guys need to worry about making it in New York. Coming up are a production of The Nightmare Story in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and a new show in Manhattan. But if you've never seen them, no need to wait. You still have time to catch The Mountain Song at the Soho Playhouse.

Remaining performances are Sat 9/17 @ 9:30, Mon 9/19 @ 8, Sat 9/24 @ 5, and Sun 9/25 @ 7:30

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Another Fringe Festival has come and gone, taking the end of summer with it, but the Fringe Encore Series is just getting underway. The series features 18 of the most well-received Fringe shows, including winner of the FringeNYC overall excellence award for best production of a play, The More Loving One.

Cory Conley's play takes place in a college town and explores how a trial affects two couples--Matt (David Beck, who resembles Patrick Wilson in everything but his voice) and his wife Lauren (Adriana Degirolami) and their roommate Heinrich (Jimmy Davis) and his boyfriend Henry (Preston Martin), who have been together just as long as Matt and Lauren. The action mostly takes place on the evening of campus move-in day. Matt has spent most of the day testifying against his friend and colleague in a statutory rape trial and as the couples discuss the events of the day, more about their relationships are revealed. The play treads familiar territory, but it goes in some genuinely surprising directions. It's structured in a way that constantly keeps you guessing. Director Craig Baldwin does well by the flashback scenes that shed light on some of the conversations without feeling forced. There are some laugh-out-loud moments to lighten the tension, mostly courtesy of Martin. The characters aren't all that likable, which makes it hard to care what happens to them (you may find yourself wanting to throw things at them), but Conley is certainly a playwright to watch.

Remaining performances are Wed 9/14 @ 9, Tue 9/20 @ 8, Thu 9/22 @ 9:30, and Mon 9/26 @ 8

Photo credit: Ryan Mekenian

Monday, September 12, 2011

Contest: Win Tickets to Relatively Speaking

Update: The contest is now closed. The winners were picked using a random number generator and have been contacted. Congrats Kristen and Vance and thank you to everybody who entered.

One silver lining to the end of summer is the start of the new Broadway season. Relatively Speaking, an evening of one-act plays by Woody Allen, Ethan Coen, and Elaine May, starts previews on September 20. Each play represents a different branch of the family tree. Coen's Talking Cure deals with the insanity that comes from family. May's George is Dead explores the "hilarity of death." And Allen's Honeymoon Motel takes place on a wedding day. The cast of 15 includes Julie Kavner, Steve Guttenberg, Mark Linn-Baker, and Marlo Thomas.

I'm a Woody Allen fan, so I'm most looking forward to Honeymoon Motel. And I love Rhoda, so I'm also excited to see Kavner aka Brenda Morgenstern onstage. To be entered to win tickets, let me know in the comments which of the one-acts you are most looking forward to and why. I will pick TWO winners at random (each winner will receive a pair of tickets) on Friday, September 16 at 5 p.m. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle in the comments so I have a way to contact you if you win. Good luck!

If you don't win, you can save up to 40% with this discount offer:
Offer valid on all performances September 20 – November 6 when you order by October 20, 2011

Tickets starting at $45 and Orchestra/Front Mezz from $74 -$79

Visit: ( and use code RSTELE
Bring this offer to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre box office, 256 W. 47th Street (between Broadway and 8th ave)

Call 877-250-2929 and mention code RSTELE

Offer subject to availability and prior sale. Offer valid for select locations only. Applicable only to specified performance dates and times. Not valid on previously purchased tickets and may not be combined with other offers. All sales final; no refunds or exchanges. Telephone/internet orders subject to standard service fees. All prices include a $2.00 facility fee. Offer may be revoked at any time. Seat restrictions and other blackout dates may apply. When purchasing at the box office, present offer prior to ticket inquiry. Expires 10/20/11.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Completeness at Playwrights Horizons

You don't have to know anything about science to relate to Itamar Moses's romantic comedy between nerdy scientist types. And don't let the term romantic comedy scare you either. Completeness, directed by Pam MacKinnon, is an accurate portrayal of 20-somethings dealing with relationships.

Molly (Aubrey Dollar) is a molecular biology graduate student and Elliot (Karl Miller) is at the same school in the computer science department. They eye each other in a computer lab (David Zinn's set is deceptively simple at first, then revealing multiple surprises) and he offers to create a computer program that will help her in her research. It doesn't take long for them to end up in bed together and as much as they as they like each other, they both have trouble with commitment.

Moses has a gift for writing realistic dialogue and the leads speak it so naturally that at times it's hard to remember it's scripted. There are so many little details that ring true, like Elliot asking for Molly's number, then changing his mind and asking for her e-mail address because then it's more likely he'll actually get in touch. Even the scientific lingo, or at least the basic gist of it, is pretty easy to follow.

Miller played Elliot in the world premiere of Completeness at South Coast Repertory, but he joined this production already in rehearsals (he replaced Lucas Kavner, who replaced Michael Stahl-David). Considering Miller and Dollar must not have had much time to work together, their chemistry is even more impressive. The other two actors, Meredith Forlenza and Brian Avers play multiple roles, but they don't feel distinct enough.

There is one jarring scene in the second act that will probably prove divisive (without revealing too much, I thought it broke up the realism of the rest of the play and could have done without it, while others thought it was one of the best scenes). At least it will provide plenty to talk about it on the way out of the theater, as will the rest of the play.

Use code COMPBLOG for a ticket discount. Order by September 13 and tickets are $40 (reg. $70) for performances August 19-Sept. 4; and $50 (reg. $70) for perfs. Sept. 6-25. For tickets or more information, visit or call (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily).

Note: The production officially opens on September 13, but I was invited to a preview and asked to post my thoughts.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Totally Awesome Show You Can't See Right Now

I saw this great theater piece the other night. I want to be able to tell you to go see it, but it was the last night of its three-night run at the Robert Moss Theater in New York and the theater company is based in Santa Barbara. But I'm going to tell you about it anyway, because you should know about Proximity Theatre Company.

Proximity is a non-profit youth theater company (the actors range in age from 16 to 29) that produces physical theater productions.

Shandy Wilkes by Proximity's co-artistic director Karina Richardson is a reworked version of The Marvellous Shandy Wilkes, presented by Proximity in 2009. It's a really sweet fairy tale about the power of love. Shandy Wilkes (Chiara Perez del Campo) was born with mirrors in her eyes that show people the thing about themselves they fear the most. Her own mother (Richardson) can't bear to look at her, so Shandy is mostly raised by her blind grandmother Maria Carmen (Siena Perez del Campo). Shandy's only friends are a fun-loving unicorn (Jake Himovitz) and a know-it-all dragon (Gabriela London), but eventually, Shandy has to go to school. Only Hymn (Himovitz) can look into her eyes because he is too young to have learned how to hate any part of himself. The rest of the students and teachers fear her, but she gets to keep coming to school on the condition that she will wear sunglasses. The play follows her through her teenage years when she reconnects with Hymn and into young adulthood.

The show has a great message and is appropriate for children, but is just as entertaining for adults. The youthful energy from the cast (most of whom juggle multiple roles) is infectious. Kyra Lehman's (doing double-duty as director) frantic choreography paired with Ken Urbina's original music gives the show a hip, modern edge, but never feels false or trying too hard.

New Yorkers, check out the two promo videos to get a taste of what you missed. If you live in or near Santa Barbara, I encourage you to keep your eye on Proximity's website for future show information. But here's hoping they will be back on the east coast soon.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

FRINGE: Keepers

What's The Benefit, Inc. produces theater that highlights a specific charitable cause. Keepers, a musical about adoption based on real testimonials, was originally presented at Studio 54 last year as a benefit for Spence Chapin Adoption Services and now it's having its first run at Fringe. It's hard to really a judge a show when everybody's hearts are in the right place.

The program doesn't specify how much of the script is directly taken from testimonials, but there are four book writers--Spencer Lavallee, Nicco Franklin, Paul Daniel Cloeter, and Molly C. Blau (Franklin and Cloeter also appear in the show). Short monologues are interspersed with musical numbers, so as is the case with other musicals of this kind, it's hard for the characters to make a lasting impression. But there are many sweet (two brothers--one adopted--in trouble with the principal are as close as any brothers), sad (a man in prison never learned to love his adoptive parents), and funny (a lesbian couple joke that they have to go to the "ballerina store" so their daughter won't end up gay) moments. What the musical does well is present both the positive and negative sides of adoption from the points of view of both children and adults. The music by Daniel Wolpow and Cloeter is pretty, though I think the show would work just as well as a play. As a whole, the actors are better in the individual scenes than when singing all together as in the title number. Erin Breen is particularly memorable in the opening scene on her adopted daughter's first day of school as is Franklin as a young man who finds a box belonging to his birth parents.

If you know anyone who has been adopted or gone through the adoption process, you will probably be moved by the show in some way. Up next for What's the Benefit is Weaker People, a musical dealing with the issue of bullying.

The final performance of Keepers is Sun 28 @ noon.

Monday, August 22, 2011

FRINGE: The Legend of Julie Taymor, or The Musical That Killed Everybody

I was sick of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark before even the first preview. I was relieved when the musical officially opened, if only so I wouldn't have to hear about it anymore. But The Legend of Julie Taymor was so entertaining that I didn't mind hearing the the well-known saga again. I had a much better time at this Fringe show than at either version of Spider-Man.

The title is the only place where Julie Taymor's name is mentioned. In the musical by Travis Ferguson, producer Frank Kashowitz (Johnnie Moore) has the idea to turn the popular comic franchise Spider-Dude into a musical and he wants Bruno (Clint Carter), lead singer of the band U[squared] to write the music, but Bruno will only agree if they get Julie Paymore (a show-stealing Jennifer Barnhart) to direct.

Sure, Turn Off the Dark is an easy target, but Ferguson's attention to detail is impressive. The musical follows the trajectory of the spectacular failure pretty closely, from lead producer's death to delayed openings to actor injuries, so the more you know about its history, the more you'll laugh. For example, most avid theatergoers will recognize Lionel Weasel (Christopher Davis Carlisle, another standout in the cast), the gossip columnist intent on destroying Spider-Dude, as Michael Riedel of the New York Post. Of course, there is comic exaggeration. I doubt Riedel and Taymor have any sort of romantic history or that Christopher Tierney's accident was purposefully orchestrated by Taymor.

The score by Dave Ogrin (he and Ferguson co-wrote lyrics) is at its best when mocking Turn Off The Dark's score. A highlight is "Boy Falls From the Rafters"--sung by Barry Shafrin as the adorably naive Billy--a perfect send-up of "Boy Falls From The Sky." As someone who saw a preview of version 1.0, "Tweet , Tweet, Tweet!"--sung by audience members tweeting at the first preview--was an accurate depiction of what it was like to watch the mess of a show. ("Where are they going on the tangent? Still can't understand the words. 3 hours in. What's worse, the music or the dancing?")

The creators left no stone unturned with touches like Katie White's comic-book style props (even Starbucks cups are made of cardboard). I would like to see more from Ogrin and Ferguson, but now can we please stop talking about Spider-Man?

The final performance is Wed 24 @ 7.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

FRINGE: Ampersand: A Romeo & Juliet Story

Between Romeo and Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending, The Bardy Bunch, and the musical Ampersand: A Romeo & Juliet Story by Mariah MacCarthy, there is a lot of Romeo and Juliet going on at Fringe. Add in the somewhat disappointing Royal Shakespeare Company production I saw in July and you'd think I'd be all Romeo and Juliet'ed out. But I never mind revisiting the story when a production is done well or offers a fresh take.

MacCarthy's new spin is that Romeo and Juliet are two young women living in Verona, Iowa. Juliet (Brigitte Choura) is a rich beauty queen engaged to marry Paris (Nic Grelli) and Romeo (Lauren Hennessy) is a wannabe rock star. Their mothers (both played by men--Jeremy Michael Lagunas as Claire Capulet and Matt Welsh as Evelyn Montague) are running against each other for mayor. But the Capulet/Montague rivalry is deeper than that. When Romeo came out in high school (this Romeo and Juliet, at 21, are a little older than Shakespeare's characters), she received threats from Juliet's cousin Tybalt (Craig Hanson). The election is in full swing and Claire Capulet decides to throw a masquerade party. Romeo dresses like a man, hoping to woo college student Rosaline, but ends up dancing with the masked Juliet. By the time each realizes who the other is, it's too late--they've already fallen for each other.

The show works largely because of Hennessy and Choura and their fantastic chemistry. Both women draw you in completely in scenes together and apart. They are supported by a strong ensemble cast, especially Jordan Tierny as comic relief Mercutio and Hanson as frat boy Tybalt.

The other reason this show is so memorable is Brian Kirchner's rock-folk-pop-Lady Gaga hybrid score. The songs start off humorous ("Hey Bitch") and become haunting ("Star-Crossed Lover" performed by the choir Diana Oh, Julie Ek, and Lauren Weinberg). Kudos to Emily Rupp, who juggles guitar, ukele, flute, and vocals.

Ampersand does need some tightening. The two-and-a-half hour show could be shortened as some of the scenes feel extraneous or repetitive. For example, the scenes between Juliet and her grandfather (Anna Savant) are sweet, but don't add much and there is an argument with Juliet and Romeo that goes on for too long. Even with these quibbles, this musical has the strongest potential for life after Fringe that I've seen this year.

Final performance is Sat 27 @ 7:45.

Photo credit: Kacey Stamats

Monday, August 15, 2011

FRINGE: Welcome to Eternity

I really enjoyed Matt Saldarelli's Getting Even With Shakespeare at last year's Fringe. He abandons Shakespeare characters for a trip down the aisle with his new play, Welcome to Eternity, a series of seven short scenes between soon-to-be-married couple Amanda (Mary Schneider) and Patrick (Patrick Pizzolorusso). (I should probably disclose that I am "Twitter friends" with Pizzolorusso.)

According to program notes, Saldarelli, whose own wedding is in a few weeks, got the inspiration for the play when he told his fiancée that he wanted to write a graphic novel about her family. That idea became "Justice Family of America." As you can see, this isn't your typical marriage play. Though a lot of the issues raised--religion, dieting--are familiar, Saldarelli puts an original spin on them. For example, in "Catholic-22," Patrick and Amanda play a game to test her Catholic knowledge and in "Missionary Sundays," Patrick decides to add some spontaneity into their sex lives by trying out a new sexual position a day.

Saldarelli writes convincing dialogue in which his characters go off on believable tangents. (As in Getting Even With Shakespeare, conversations include many pop culture references.) Though each scene stands solidly on its own and together they start to form a picture of the couple, the play could do with some more establishing of why these two are together. They don't seem to agree on anything and we rarely see them being affectionate with one another. Yes, the play is about how the wedding takes a toll on their relationship, but I wondered why they fell in love in the first place. Luckily, Schneider and Pizzolorusso have an easy rapport that makes it easier to fill in the blanks.

Remaining performances: Sat 20 @ noon and Thu 25 @ 2

Photo credit: Dixie Sheridan

FRINGE: The Bardy Bunch: The War of the Families Partridge and Brady

If you thought Romeo and Juliet was a story of woe, wait until you hear the tragedy of Keith Partridge and Marcia Brady. The Bardy Bunch: The War of the Families Partridge and Brady is The Brady Bunch meets The Partridge Family meets Romeo and Juliet meets Macbeth meets Hamlet meets Much Ado About Nothing, with bits of other Shakespeare plays thrown in for good measure. So if you're a fan of either singing family or Shakespeare, you will probably find something to enjoy in this violent musical comedy.

The story takes place in the summer of '74, after both shows went off the air. The Partridges and the Bradys are in a Montague/Capulet-type feud when Keith (Erik Keiser) and Marcia (Cali Elizabeth Moore) fall in love. They devise a plan to trick Greg Brady (A.J. Shively) and Laurie Partridge (Carina Zabrodsky) into falling in love. Meanwhile, Carol Brady (Susan J. Jacks) convinces her husband (Jacks's real-life husband Nick Ruggeri) to kill his boss and Danny Partridge (Adam Wald) is haunted by the memory of his father and wants revenge on his mother Shirley's (Michelle Mazza) new husband Reuben (Craig Wichman).

Playwright Stephen Garvey clearly knows his Bradys, Partridges, and Shakespeare. Some of the Shakespeare jokes are appropriately sitcom corny. I particularly enjoyed references to my favorite Brady Bunch episodes, and I didn't feel like I was missing out when The Partridge Family references went over my head.

Eighteen is a large cast by Fringe standards and director Jay Stern deftly maneuvers the chaos. Everybody in the cast fits into their roles perfectly. Standouts include the four young lovers and Jonathan Grunert as Peter, whose "It's Time To Change" is one of the high points of the evening. Logan Medland has done a fantastic job of arranging the songs like "I Woke Up In Love This Morning" for musical theater storytelling. Lorna Ventura's choreography also lovingly references the sitcoms.

There are only three performances left and Friday's is already sold out, so if this sounds like your type of show, I'd suggest buying a ticket soon.

Remaining performances: Fri 19 @ 9, Sun 21 @ 8:45, and Wed 24 @ 2

Photo caption: Erik Keiser as Keith Partridge and A.J. Shively as Greg Brady
Photo credit: Tom Henning

Sunday, August 14, 2011

FRINGE: Yeast Nation

Urinetown is considered the most successful show to come out of the Fringe Festival. The musical opened on Broadway in 2001 and won Tony Awards for best book, score, and direction of a musical. Greg Kotis (book, lyrics) and Mark Hollmann (music, lyrics) return to Fringe with Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life) and sold out the run before the first performance. But I doubt that Yeast Nation will have the same trajectory as Urinetown.

If expectations weren't so high for Yeast Nation, it would be another amusing, quirky Fringe show, but it's hard not to make comparisons to Urinetown as it is so similar in style and themes. The musical takes place in 3,000,458,000 BC at the bottom of the primordial sea. Although the characters are yeast, the story, which involves power struggles and love against the odds, is familiar. Jan the Elder (George McDaniel)--if you know Urinetown, think of him as Caldwell B. Cladwell--enforces strict rules about reproduction, what the yeast can eat, and where they can go. But his son Jan the Second (Erik Altemus) falls in love with Jan the Sweet (Emily Tarpey) and starts to question his father. The show even has an Officer Lockstock and Little Sally in the form of Jan the Unnamed (Harriet Harris) and a precocious young boy, well yeast (Charlie Plummer), who narrate and break the fourth wall.

Yeast Nation feels long at two-and-a-half hours, but overall the strong ensemble keep energy and entertainment levels up when the show begins to drag. Standouts in the cast include Joy Suprano as Jan the Wise and Jan the Famished (Jennifer Blood), whose duet is a highlight of the show.

The score was catchy, but because Urinetown is one of the funniest musicals I've ever seen, I was expecting to laugh a lot more at the lyrics. Clearly, Kotis and Hollmann have a lot of talent, and I would love to see something completely different from them. Not that I mind musicals with bad titles or being told that my way of living is unsustainable.

Photo from left to right: Manu Narayan, Emily Tarpey, and Erik Altemus
Photo credit: Jay Sullivan