Sometimes, all the power and money in the world cannot protect you from the consequences of your decisions. It’s a moral presented in Terence Rattigan’s Man and Boy that comes off kind of comforting (maybe even vindicating) in a society where the disconnect between corporate greed and unemployment rates are impossible to ignore. Frank Langella plays Romanian financier Gregor Antonescu (a Bernie Madoff of yesteryear) in 1934 New York, sought in a financial scandal so big, it’s splashed across the front page of The Wall Street Journal. He takes refuge at the dilapidated Greenwich Village apartment of his estranged son Basil (Adam Driver), who he’s left scarred from years of neglect. In the apartment, Antonescu spins a variety of last-ditch schemes to avoid imprisonment and financial ruin.
The No. 1 Reason To See Man and Boy: Frank Langella’s polite condescension Read more
If there’s a lesson to learn from Follies, it’s “Don’t look back.” Because if you do, there’s only a mess there. Featuring a fearsome foursome of Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein, and Ron Raines, this revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s musical follows a group of former showgirls who gather for a reunion at the theater where they once basked in the spotlight before it’s demolished into a parking lot. What seems to be an innocent trip down memory lane exposes the cracks of marriage and the open wounds of regret for the two main couples.
The No. 1 Reason To See Follies: Bernadette Peters’ performance of “In Buddy’s Eyes” Read more
Cirque du Soleil has swooped back into New York in its second attempt to mount a successful semi-permanent show—Zarkana at Radio City Music Hall. After the financial and critical disaster that was last year’s Banana Shpeel at the Beacon Theater, the new spectacle, which opened Wednesday night, shows signs of many lessons learned.
Banana Shpeel spun a ridiculous “who cares?” tale of a grouchy circus ringleader who’s had a bee in his bonnet for decades because of a past romance gone sour. The irritating plot left little stage time for the incredible contortionists, jugglers, and hand balancers that the audience had paid money to see. In Zarkana, a magician named Zark (get where the title comes from?) has lost his love and his magical powers. (Dude, bummer.) He spends the show lamenting about it in dramatic, rock-opera numbers, but leaves the stage for significant chunks of time, allowing the amazing soldiers of Cirque to do their thing. Less story, yes; but I could have done without Zark and his sad-sack story completely. Why does Cirque du Soleil feel so compelled to add narrative to their New York shows? Is it the presence of Broadway that makes them feel they need to compete? Broadway shows and Cirque-du-Soleil eye orgasms are apples and oranges. Cirque, leave the storytelling to Sondheim—show us the wow.
And Zarkana does deliver on the wow factor. The show kicks off with a perfect appetizer—a juggling act, which is small enough in scale, but kicks into a whirlwind of high-speed coordination that was enough to make my palms sweat. Next up is a gorgeous and romantic aerial duet, in which the male and female performers fly around the expansive stage entangled in a hanging rope. The rest of Act I includes some fun tightrope walkers, but doesn’t astonish. The true breathtaking moments of Zarkana are saved for the second act. Read more
Donna Murphy stars as Raisel, who is more commonly referred to as Bubbie by her doting granddaughter. Raisel recounts stories to her granddaughter Jenny (an irritating Rachel Resheff) of her days as an actor in a Yiddish theater troupe in Warsaw, Poland. Despite being unable to talk about anything but the past, Raisel aggressively resists any memories her daughter Red (Nicole Parker) attempts to discuss, which is where the story’s haziness begins. Through her avoidance and weakened voice, we see that Raisel is haunted by her past—quite literally, actually, as the spirits of her dead friends visit her. Nothing like being beaten over the head with a metaphor.
Raisel is getting pretty old (judging by Murphy’s performance, I’d say about 126) and she’s losing her wits. Red finds it unacceptable for a senior citizen’s mind not to be as sharp as a tack, so she starts researching retirement homes. Raisel rails against her daughter’s suggestion with rage, as the mere idea reminds her of being put into a Nazi concentration camp. Ah, here come the memories that Raisel is trying to escape.
The story swerves in and out of Raisel’s past during Nazi-occupied Poland and the present day, which in this play is 1977. The transitions are abrupt and even stack up on each other. One moment the story is in the present with the 1970s characters, then it’s in the past with the 1940s characters, and sometimes the 1940s cast is talking in the present. No wonder Bubbie gets confused! Read more
There is a perfect marriage of solid writing and superb acting occurring at the Golden Theatre in the debut Broadway production of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart. Originally staged at the Public Theater in 1985, Kramer’s semi-autobiographical play about the outbreak of AIDS in America in the early 1980s is a breathtaking view into paranoia, prejudice, and ignorance about what would become one of the world’s most important health issues.
It’s July 1981 in New York and Ned Weeks and his fellow gay companions are experiencing something strange. Their friends are getting sick, and no one knows why. The opening scene in a hospital waiting room depicts Ned comforting a nervous friend, experiencing the foreboding symptoms. Ned assures him that there’s nothing to worry about, yet the doctor he sees says otherwise. However, not even she has an explanation for the illness that dozens of gay men in New York are contracting. Thus begins Kramer’s incredible depiction of the rise of medical paranoia and how it incited a social revolution combating one of the most notorious diseases of the modern age.
Deeply disturbed by the mysterious plight of his friends, Ned forms an activism group to combat the unknown illness. In this production, the team consists of the Joe Mantello (Ned), Patrick Breen (Mickey), Lee Pace (Bruce), and Jim Parsons (Tommy), all of whom give stunning performances. During their rocky quest to work with the government to fight the epidemic, this rag-tag group of underdogs go to war with politicians, family members, and each other. The latter conflict proves to be the most heartbreaking, as their crusade against an unknown enemy highlights their fears and doubts, pitting them against each other. Read more
Theater needs to feel genuine, and in the case of the new musical Baby It’s You!, it comes off as a marketing ploy concocted by executives doing musical theater algebra. Commercial success Jersey Boys + all females (because women love to go to the theater) = Baby It’s You!. Only this equation doesn’t yield exciting results.
The musical focuses on Florence Greenburg, the New Jersey housewife who decides she’s bored and scoops up five female singers to manage. They become the Shirelles, and Baby It’s You! is set to their music. Don’t be fooled though; the show is about Greenburg and barely includes the actual members of the Shirelles. Florence all but abandons her husband and two children to manage the girls, climbs the music industry ladder, and enters a then-taboo affair with the Shirelles’ black producer, Luther Dixon. She and the Shirelles make pop-music history, but at what cost? Fame or family—which is more important? You decide.
Although there isn’t much else to ponder in Baby It’s You!. A musical that should be all about relationships (well, what play isn’t about relationships?) leaves all the personal connections undeveloped and cold. Beth Leavel and Allan Louis play Florence and Luther, and there isn’t one fiery ember of chemistry between them. Florence’s daughter, Mary Jane (played by Kelli Barrett) feels spurned by her mother who ditched her for the recording industry. She shows up after years without communication ready to ream her mother out, and all anger is washed away with a song. (Mary Jane can belt; how convenient. Watch out MJ, Mamma might try to sign you.) Most criminal is the lack of connection between Florence and the girls she manages. The woman who left her children to basically act as a surrogate mother to the members of the girl group shows no sign of deep rapport with any of them. What passes between the Shirelles and Florence is simply blank. Read more
A ditzy blonde can always be counted upon for a laugh in a comedy. Yet in the case of Born Yesterday, she is also the fixture that gives the play its soul. In this excellent Doug Hughes-directed revival, Nina Arianda as Billie Dawn displays not only the discovery of a woman’s independence, but also the awakening of a spirit.
Set in Washington, D.C. in 1946, Harry Brock (Jim Belushi) is a blustery tycoon who blows into town with his trophy girlfriend Billie (Arianda) with plans to make millions through a method in which Uncle Sam would not approve. Worried that the thickheaded Billie will clash with his high-influence potential cohorts, Harry hires Paul Verrall (Robert Sean Leonard) as a tutor to sharpen her edges. However, Harry awakens a sleeping monster in Billie that will foil his political plans.
Directed with thorough care by Hughes, Arianda creates a window into Billie that begins foggy and gradually clears to allow full visibility. Taking playwright Garson Kanin’s quip-filled script, Arianda nails the jokes in Act I by conveying Billie’s ignorance. In Act II, her Billie’s humor changes to reveal her newfound confidence and feistiness. Yet it is more than Kanin’s solid writing (which holds up shockingly well from its debut in 1946); every gesture and expression from Arianda builds upon who Billie is. I left the theater feeling as if I knew Billie in real life. Arianda gives true insight into Billie, doing so with a vibrant and ambitious energy that reflects her eagerness to be on stage. Arianda tackles this character with such force that she has left no inch of Billie’s stage time unmarked.
Arianda has fiery chemistry with Belushi, who seems extremely committed and comfortable as the bossy Harry. Their arguing and cheap shots at each other somehow feel fresh compared to other tired examples of volatile couples. By belittling and dismissing her, Belushi creates a cage in which we see Billie is trapped and manages to make it both comedic and frightening. His is also a fully-thought performance. While Arianda is busy filling silences with some golden gestures, Belushi’s presence and delivery equally fill the stage. It is often difficult to decide which performer to look at. Read more
A playwright puts pen to paper in order to share a message with the world. It is meant to be received by an audience, weighed, and understood. Yet in the case of a show that has no discernable meaning, where hours of words crash upon the audience like bricks and nothing is derided, something is very wrong. Such is the case with Jez Butterworth’s indecipherable Jerusalem.
Set in the woods of Wiltshire, England (an impressive set by Ultz, with trees that tower to the top of the Music Box Theatre, far beyond where the audience can see), the perpetually drunk Johnny “Rooster” Byron (played expertly by Mark Rylance) resides with his equally inebriated gang of lost boys and girls. This middle-aged soak enables the group of punks who laze around, acting like fools, in an obvious effort to hold onto a youth that has long escaped him. It is also evident at points that this troubled group of delinquents enables Rooster just as much.
The unsavory bunch congregate at Rooster’s trailer, parked in the middle of the forest, day after day, drunkenly carrying on with music blaring. The well-to-do residents of the area that have grown in numbers over the years have had enough of Rooster & Co. and have successfully petitioned the government to throw them off the land. What ensues is Rooster’s passionate crusade, fueled by a bottomless source of pride, to keep his land and his derelict way of life.
The plot is interesting enough. A colorful character with a penchant for spouting tall tales and has a bunch of goofy, younger sidekicks fights wildly to stake his claim on his land. This would be all well and good if Jerusalem didn’t have a running time of three hours. Other than the storyline I have just outlined, the hours of monologues and exchanges is an incomprehensible blur from which I gleaned no value. Read more
Religion is taking a beating on Broadway this season. That isn’t to say theater is pointing its gun at God, but rather shining a light on faith and daring audiences to make their own informed conclusions. First, the new musical The Book of Mormon takes religion out of its precisely manufactured packaging and encourages that we just believe. Now in the new dark drama High, playwright Matthew Lombardo asks the audience—how much do you believe?
In High, Kathleen Turner stars as Sister Jamison, a foul-mouthed, ex-alcoholic nun working at an addiction center. Father Michael (Stephen Kunken) assigns her a new patient, Cody Randall (Evan Jonigkeit), who will prove to be the ultimate test of her faith. Cody is a 19 year old who has been on drugs since he was 8 (and raped at that time too). He has been brought in by authorities after being discovered at a grim motel scene, where a 14-year-old companion had overdosed and Cody attempted suicide. Can you feel the heaviness yet?
Cody, however, doesn’t want to get clean, and the stubbornness of the 19-year-old drug addict and the ex-alcoholic nun mixes together like gasoline and matches.
While High’s narrative might be all about Cody and the attempt to save him, the story is really about Sister Jamison and her unraveling. Right off the bat, she is introduced to us as bold, brash, and strong. She wears her former addiction and her raw past like a medal. Yet as she sinks deeper into Cody’s darkness, the strength that initially emanates from Sister Jamison reveals itself to be a façade. Read more
A conman has arrived at the Neil Simon Theatre, and his story blows up on stage in spectacular Broadway musical fashion. Catch Me If You Can, based on the Steven Spielberg film of how a teenager—Frank Abagnale Jr.—forged millions of dollars in checks and created false identities that included an airplane pilot, doctor, and lawyer. While the musical (from the composing team of Hairspray) falters in storytelling and tunes, it makes up for it with its stellar cast and production value.
Front and center of Catch Me If You Can is Aaron Tveit in a star-making turn as Frank Jr. Last seen on Broadway as Gabe in Next to Normal, Tveit’s performance solidifies him as a bona fide star, worthy of stage and screen. With killer good looks, endless charm, and one of the strongest voices on Broadway, the role of Frank Jr. allows Tveit to hijack the production, and he takes advantage of every moment. Not only does Tveit execute every dance step and note with tenacity, but his performance exhibits impressive endurance, as he is in nearly every scene. Tveit makes Frank Jr. crafty, but conveys much needed heart with the characters closest to him, making him sympathetic to the audience. His is a not-to-be-missed performance of an actor exploding into stardom.
Tveit’s performance has potential to show darker sides of Frank Jr., but the show’s book by Terrence McNally doesn’t allow for it. Catch Me gets too caught up in the sparkle of “Hey, aren’t all these fake identities fun!”, while forgetting that Frank Jr. suffers from deep-routed pain and is committing serious crimes. Read more