Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fall 2016: NYC

The Front Page on Broadway

I wasn't sure what to expect of this play, which I assumed would be too old-fashioned to be a draw on its own, but it's hard to pass up seeing a cast that includes Nathan Lane, John Slattery, John Goodman, Holland Taylor, Jefferson Mays, and Robert Morse. Thankfully, everyone was in and firing on all cylinders. The first act, with its rapid, much-overlapping dialogue, was for the most part atmospheric. The play really takes off in the second act, especially with the late arrival of Nathan Lane, who has become a must-see in anything he does since his brilliant turn in The Iceman Cometh. There's no one who could glean as much hilarity from this material as Lane does. And it's rare to see such a large cast (of 21) and such a huge, intricate set these days, even on Broadway. This one was a delight from start to finish!


Falsettos on Broadway

Rarely mounted, I hadn't seen "Falsettos" since a pre-"Falsettos," Spring of 1992 production at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (in their smaller Studio Theater) that combined March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland a month prior to that combination premiering on Broadway for the first time as Falsettos. That production starred Mr. Jodi Benson as Whizzer and the Little Mermaid herself (on leave from the just-opened Crazy For You) sat right in front of me!

My love for the show has been unending ever since then (see pic of framed William Finn lyric on my "theatre wall") and this revival on Broadway continued that love, led by an outstanding cast, including a never-better Stephanie J. Block, who stops the show with her incredible version of "I'm Breaking Down." The cast has to contend with a lot of busywork in constantly rearranging the puzzle pieces of furniture (that all come together as a single large cube), but they don't let that get in the way of delivering the heart and humor at the core of this show. Bravo!


Sweet Charity, The New Group off-Broadway

This is another classic show that I had been waiting for the right production before seeing it for the first time. Part of the appeal of this production though is to see such a big show in such a small venue (there were only 3 rows in the center section of the main floor!). I find Sutton Foster alternately bland and brilliant, but she is divine here as is the rest of the cast, especially Joel Perez (of Fun Home) in his multiple roles. If the choreography is not on the level of Bob Fosse, it is still a delight with the highlight being Foster's amazing tap routine for "If My Friends Could See Me Now." That whole sequence, including the book scene leading up to the dance, is musical comedy perfection! While many complain that this show and its myriad different endings have never "worked" without Fosse and Gwen Verdon, they both worked great for me! This production will surely have another life on a larger stage, but I will always remember seeing it (and the amazing Sutton Foster) in one of the smaller spaces at the newish Pershing Square Signature Center.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fall 2016: Chicago

Wonderful Town at the Goodman

The Goodman had Wonderful Town on its schedule for years, but the oft-delayed production by Mary Zimmerman finally came to fruition this fall and a 1-week extension allowed me to get to Chicago to see the show for the first time (I declined to see Donna Murphy's understudy multiple times in NYC). While old-fashioned, it isn't nearly as old-fashioned as On The Town by the same team. For some reason though, Zimmerman has updated the time period to the 1950s, which while allowing for some cool, colorful sets (by Todd Rosenthal), contradicts with the innumerable 1930s references in the book and lyrics. Still, this was a fun and entertaining production with a talented cast and crew. Glad I made it!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fall 2016: Los Angeles

The Broad

My first visit to LA's hot new museum coincided with it's one year anniversary, which came with a free Sprinkles cupcake. While the Cindy Sherman retrospective was nearly identical to that of MoMA's in 2012, the real highlight here is the permanent collection, which suited my taste to a T (is there anything better than Jeff Koons's Michael Jackson and Bubbles?), and the building itself with its beehive inspiration (honeycombed windows on the outside illuminating the art and dark, organic passageways on the inside). Loved it! It's all free (except for the special exhibits), but get your reservations the day they go live because they go fast!

Fall 2016: St. Louis

A rare post about my hometown, but I couldn't resist commenting on the production of Steven Sondheim's Follies that launched the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis's 50th Anniversary. Here's a cut and past of what I posted on Broadway World after attending the very first preview:

"I was there last night and while I love the score but not necessarily the show (disappointed with the Kennedy Center's production, blown away with Gary Griffin's inspired staging at Chicago Shakespeare), this new mounting is stellar. All four leads are perfect, delivering fully-realized characterizations that end up being heart-breaking. While Adam Heller reads slightly older than the rest (and maybe Noll younger), this was the first time I really cared for Buddy. The show starts a little slow and awkward (isn't that always the case with Follies), but it doesn't take long to pick up. The posted runtime is 2:25 with intermission and I walked out the door at 10:35. There were no pauses or mistakes and it seemed like this couldn't have been up and running for awhile now. There were 29 actors on stage and 12 musicians in the pit (who sounded great!). The rest of my random comments include spoilers so let me pause...


I love the fact that this Buddy doesn't dance during "The Right Girl." I've always hated this non-hoofer character dancing his ass off during this non-Loveland number, but the lack of choreography here is just right and Heller acts the hell out of it.

This is the best set I've seen at the Rep and it perfectly fills out the Loretto-Hilton's super wide stage and its half-as-wide three-quarters thrust. This time around the Weismann theater's stage is circular with its run-down proscenium on an outer turntable (which of course spins during the transition to Loveland) covering the thrust. The sides of the stage (which are hidden for most Rep productions but used for most of Opera Theatre's) make up the wings with entrances on one side and stairwells to dressing rooms on the other. An inner turntable is used effectively throughout, starting with the overture as the stairwell comes together for the ghosts to descend.

"Who's That Woman?" is the one of the reasons I'm going to try to see this again. I think many in the audience probably thought the taps were canned when the older ladies started to dance. The younger versions eventually appear from the wings not only tapping but rolling on the outlines of full-size mirrors with them. These eventually get rolled onto the inner turntable and everything turns into a Busby Berkeley-style spinning extravaganza. Needless to say the audience went slightly crazy (especially for the Rep's older demographic).

Nancy Opel's "I'm Still Here" also received a great response and rightly so. I will quibble though that I like this number delivered to members of the reunion instead of being performed alone on stage as an inner monologue. Same with the "Rain on the Roof/Ah, Paris!/Broadway Baby" sequence, where are those party-goers always running off too?!?

I loved Noll's (or the director's) choices for "In Buddy's Eyes" and "Losing My Mind." The first comes off very angry and really digs into Ben. Most of the latter is very sane and sultry (clearly at odds with the lyrics) with Sally only really losing it at the end.

"The Story of Lucy and Jessie" could probably use some more elaborate choreography, but that also might get in the way of Skinner's clear delivery of it. I love me some Emily Skinner and loved EVERYTHING she did in this role.

For a moment I thought Bradley Dean was having a heart attack at the end of "Live, Laugh, Love" and I bet some in the audience thought he was going up on his lines. His number and what follows pack an emotional wallop.

All said, this production is a great way to kick off the Rep's 50th year. If only I loved everything they did as much as this one."

Summer 2016: Cleveland

Cleveland Museum of Art

This museum is right along the lines of the St. Louis Art Museum and Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. All are free, feature similar collections, and have interesting modern additions to their much-older original structures. They also all share a piece of Claude Monet's Agapanthus Triptych, surely his most the beautiful of his water lilies paintings. Cleveland's newish expansion features a huge, covered courtyard reminiscent of London's British Museum. A great way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Summer 2016: Chicago

Between Riverside and Crazy at Steppenwolf

This Pulitzer Prize winner has been given a great production by Steppenwolf. If I didn't love the play, I did appreciate the great acting, especially that of Eamonn Walker in the main role of an elderly man coping with his wife's death by inviting crazy into his life while still holding out for a big payday after being shot by a fellow cop in a late-night, drunken brawl eight years ago. Steppenwolf's ensemble work just can't be beat!

War Paint at the Goodman

In addition to SpongeBob the Musical, Chicago is playing host to another pre-Broadway tryout this summer. Written by the team behind Grey Gardens the Musical and starring Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, War Paint depicts the rivalry between cosmetic titans Elizabeth Arden (Ebersole) and Helena Rubenstein (LuPone). The show is similar to Grey Gardens in that it's a serious musical for adults whose second act bemoans the loss of a bygone heyday. With little in the way of choreography, this one is all about these two grand dames of musical theatre singing their asses off. Both are perfection in their roles, each shining alone as well as together. While Arden and Rubenstein never met in real life, the show's last scene depicting a possible encounter towards the end of their lives is divine!!!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Summer 2016: NYC

Fully Committed on Broadway

I was aware of this show's success off-Broadway and elsewhere, but resisted seeing it until now since one-man shows are usually not my thing. While David finally checked out the new production of The Crucible, I went to see this play's Broadway debut starring Jesse Tyler Ferguson and boy am I glad I did. The script is great and Ferguson gives an absolutely brilliant performance, giving each role a full characterization. Taking place in the course of one day, Ferguson's main role is that of a struggling actor manning the reservation line at a trendy restaurant by a hot young chef (my foodie husband actually would have liked this better than The Crucible). When talking on the phone or the restaurant's intercom, Ferguson speaks (with his body as well as his voice) all of the other characters, switching back and forth at breakneck speed. It's a marvel to watch and I can't imagine anyone doing it better. Bravo!

She Loves Me, the Roundabout on Broadway

The Roundabout's latest musical revival was pure heaven! We contemplated donating our tickets back once the live stream was announced (and given Laura Benanti's frequent absences), but the penultimate performance in the show's run turned out to be unmissable with everyone in and full-voiced, and the choreography intact (Jane Krakowski's split and Zachary Levi's cartwheel were dropped shortly into the run due to injuries). The show is perfection as was the production (including the amazing set by David Rockwell, who definitely deserved the Tony over Hamilton). Loved everything about it!

The Humans on Broadway

This is a rather simple play, but boy does it resonate! Plotless, it portrays in (slightly sped up) realtime a family coming together for Thanksgiving dinner in a daughter's rundown (though duplex) NYC apartment that she just moved into with her much older boyfriend. Each family member has struggles in life and they are easy to relate to. A few "supernatural" elements has been thrown into the mix (are all of them are in the script?), which nicely illustrate one of the play's themes: that we should be more afraid of ourselves instead of things that go bump in the night. Brilliantly acted, directed, and designed. Bravo to all involved!

Spring 2016: Humana Festival in Louisville

For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday by Sara Ruhl

The first show I attended this year was nearly unwatchable, despite the intriguing title. Plotless, the first half details the offspring of a dying man gathering in his hospital room and later at his house to mourn his passing. The second half though regresses into the siblings recreating the bedroom scene from Peter Pan, flying and all. Not a fan of either the Peter Pan story or this languishing play.

Wondrous Strange aka the Acting Apprentice Company show

I'm giving up on the Apprentice shows. The late start times combined with the serious scripts (for the past two years!) put me right to sleep. I don't remember anything about this one.

This Random World by Steven Dietz

I loved this play about a group of characters whose lives are interconnected even if they don't realize it. But, while dramatic irony is a great device, this play uses one dramatic irony after another and there is absolutely no payoff to any of them. Even if that's the point, it's still frustrating for the audience. Nonetheless, the play is entertaining and there's some beautiful writing here.

Cardboard Piano by Hansol Jung

The Victor Jory theater usually hosts a piece from an invited theatre company, but that doesn't appear to be the case this year. That may speak to the high number of quality plays submitted this year and this heartbreaker was probably my favorite of the bunch! Set in an impoverished African village prey to a brutal warlord, act one shows one devastating night in the life of a missionary's young daughter. When she returns many years later, she's horrified to discover the person responsible for her pain is the pastor at her now deceased father's church. Needless to say, the closure she desires (or the revenge she imagines) is not easily attainable or comforting. Powerful stuff!

Wellesley Girl by Brendan Pelsue

Judging by the title, one might think that this play concerns a school girl in a New England college prep. But no, this one belongs on the Sci-Fi channel in more ways than one. A post-apocalyptic, walled-off town's leaders debate the best course for survival when an outside group requests entry. While we never meet the other fraction, there's enough politics between the town's own members, both human and android, to make for an interesting discourse. Unfortunately, not all of scenarios pondered seem reasonable or logical and the play is not very theatrical, at least not until the end. Better suited to a TV mini-series.

Residence by Laura Jacqmin

This play was another highlight the festival and a great way to close it out. Concerning the down-trodden living and working at an extended stay hotel, Residence featured the most fully developed and real characters of the fest. My only quibble is the doubling of one of the actors, one of whose roles, at first seemingly peripheral, was only seen on an iPad during Facetime calls. A long, central scene later in the play though really calls out for an actor to be present on stage. Still, this is a strong, moving piece.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Spring 2016: NYC.

The Crucible on Broadway

Ivo van Hove hit one out of the park with his production of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge that started at the Young Vic in London and was also on Broadway this season. While this production was not a radical reinterpretation like A View... was, it was still electrifying, mostly due to the outstanding cast, including Ben Whishaw, Sophie Okonedo, and Saoirse Ronan. Tavi Gevinson, whose acting has not impressed me in the past, was absolute perfection in the important role of Mary. Staged in modernish dress with a large classroom for a set, this Crucible felt as relevant today as ever. The second act cameo by a large wolf-like dog was chilling, but probably missed by many still in the bathroom. Great work by all involved!

Disaster! on Broadway

This show was a lot more fun than I expected. Starting Off Off-Broadway, where it probably should have stayed, it opened on the Great White Way with a talented cast of Broadway regulars, including Faith Prince, Roger Bart, Adam Pascal, Rachel York, Kerry Butler, and Kevin Chamberlain. A parody of disaster movies from the 1970s and incorporating disco tunes from the same period, the first act was fast and funny, but the hilarity could not be sustained past the intermission. The second act was stretched thinned and quickly grew tiresome, some bits (Faith Prince's tics) more than others (anything with Jennifer Simard's hilarious nun character). Enjoyable enough, but not at Broadway prices.

American Psycho on Broadway

Nothing could have prepared me for how brilliant this musical adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's shocking novel dissecting the Reagan 80s was. This telling of Wall Street-by-day, serial killer-by night Patrick Bateman is now my favorite incarnation of the story, a spot-on and funny sendup of the 80s while being a serious look at the age of consumerism that we still live in. It doesn't hurt that the trim Benjamin Walker (so great as Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) runs around in nothing but a pair of tighty whities (often covered in blood) for about a third of the show. While the rest of the cast is excellent in much less interesting roles (poor Alice Ripley has hardly anything to do), this is Walker's show and boy does he deliver. Bravo!

Charles Busch's Cleopatra, far off-Broadway

While I had read or seen performed (but never fully appreciated) Charles Busch's scripts in the past (including movie incarnations), I always knew that any understanding of all-things-Busch would require me to actual see him on stage in one of his own campy roles. That opportunity finally presented itself and I am now in-the-know. The man is a genius at delivering a line and probably every single line of his as Cleopatra had some quirky reading that clearly isn't written down on the page. That said, a little of this type of silly theatre still goes a long way for me. Tummy Tune, someone I will always appreciate, was in the house (thank God I didn't sit behind him!).

Hamilton on Broadway

I'm sure I'm not the only person who was severely disappointed in this musical telling of Alexander Hamilton's life that most consider the second coming of Christ, but boy was this show over-hyped! The story isn't always interesting (okay, so he had an affair) and sometimes quite confusing (oh, I think we just won the American Revolution), but it's done with so much panache that most in the audience are dazzled anyway. Seriously, you could write a rap musical about Hilter and if you performed it with the same amount of bravado, frenetic dance, and expensive lights, and had all of the Nazis walk around like pimps, everyone would think it was just as good. I also don't get the overemphasis on Hamilton being an immigrant. It's quite a leap to relate the one-percenter problems of the wealthy Hamilton to the immigrant struggle of today (Lin-Manuel Miranda's outstanding In The Heights portrayed that much better). And the fact that the only Caucasian actor in a principal role is that of The Evil King George isn't color-blind casting, it's racist. Dropping the mic.

The Robber Bridegroom, off-Broadway

The Roundabout continues to score with musicals both on and off-Broadway. This revival is a delight from start to finish, thanks to the charismatic cast (especially Leslie Kritzer and Steven Pasquale) and sharp direction from Alex Timbers (Here Lies Love and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson). The story, involving mistaken identities and set in backwoods Mississippi, is easily forgettable, but it still entertains as does the folksy score. Loved it!

Shuffle Along on Broadway

Instead of being a revival of the original 1920s musical Shuffle Along, this new show (full title Shuffle Along: Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed) is a peculiar musical documentary about the original show using the original show's score. I assume that the result is more entertaining than the actual original musical (presumably too old-fashioned to revive itself), but the show and its starry principal cast can't match the amazing new tap choreography by Savion Glover. Wow...just wow! The principals (including Audra McDonald) also tap, but they mostly just get in the way of the blazing hot ensemble, who have to be seen to be believed!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Spring 2016: Chicago

Van Gogh's Bedrooms

The Art Institute got a lot of mileage out of presenting, for the first time, all three of van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles paintings. These paintings were made during the last part of the artist's life. The first (and best?) version was painted in the actual bedroom and is usually on display at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The second version (The Art Institute's) is the wildest in terms of looseness of strokes and color, and was a copy Van Gogh made a year later when he was in an asylum in the throws of mental illness. The last, smallest version (from the Musee d'Orsay in Paris) was painted a month later for the artist's mother and you can assume that he reined in his style to an attempt to please her. This exhibit included most of the Art Institute's Van Gogh holdings as well as other select works from elsewhere, including my favorite self-portrait (see below) usually housed at the National Gallery of Art in DC. Kudos to the Art Institute for presenting an engaging exhibit that featured recreations of not only the bedroom, but other scenes Van Gogh painted for viewers to lounge in (and escape the throngs crowded around the actual paintings).


The Flick by Annie Baker at Steppenwolf

I waited to see this Pulitzer prize-winning play in a production besides the long-running version that transferred to off-Broadway's Barrow Street Theater only because I heard the sightlines and seats weren't great considering the 3+ hour runtime. One couldn't ask for a better production than what Steppenwolf presented. The movie theater set was huge (more seats than the actually Upstairs Theater at Steppenwolf?) and detailed to the extreme, right down to the cobwebs on the ceiling lights and that weird last row of seats many movie theaters have. Plus, the technical geniuses at Steppenwolf rigged each seat with a hidden container so that new debris would drop to the floor between each scene. Important because we basically watch the characters clean up the same theater 20+ times throughout the play. The central conflict is thin (and can be seen coming from a mile away), but it is only a small part of this play's charms. The three main characters are well-defined and rich enough to entertain throughout, but even still the 3+ hours do drag (especially the long stretches where no one talks, just cleans). Baker's MO is long dialogue-free scenes, but here they seem to be used to excess. Thank you though to Steppenwolf for giving me exactly the production I wanted to see!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

January 2016: NYC

The Gin Game, Broadway revival

Having never seen this Pulitzer Prize-winning play, it was a no-brainer to buy tickets when James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson were announced to star in this limited run revival. Both have incredible stage presence and play off each other nicely, but there's not much to this virtually plotless play. Still, it's fun to spend time with these actors (not necessarily the characters) as they play gin game after gin game on the back porch of a rundown nursing home that they will probably never leave alive.


Larazus, New York Theatre Workshop, Off-Broadway

The David Bowie fan in me made this a not-to-be-missed event, even requiring a special trip to NYC. I wish I could say this was a great musical, but I found it lacking in many areas. The show, with recycled David Bowie songs plus a few new ones, is ambitious for sure. As a sequel to The Man Who Fell To Earth (Bowie starred in the movie version in the 1970s), it doesn't succeed as a stand alone piece. Bowie's songs too don't necessarily move along the scant plot (the still stranded alien attempts to finally escape Earth mainly by drinking himself to death). And director Ivo van Hove, who so brilliantly staged Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge, doesn't make any of the proceedings the least bit theatrical. Despite the hard working cast, including Michael G. Hall, Cristin Milioti (of Once fame, also at NYTW), and Michael Esper, this spaceship never takes off.


School of Rock, Broadway

Even Andrew Lloyd Webber is turning to recent movies to adapt into musicals! This one, like most, is by-the-books, which isn't necessarily a bad thing since the show is entertaining from start to finish. Acclaimed leading man Alex Brightman as the charismatic loser Dewey was out (which seems to be happening a lot lately) and probably could have elevated the proceedings. It's a huge role, but the show also features an amazing group of kids, who all play their own instruments. Sierra Boggess (Ariel in Broadway's The Little Mermaid and Christine in Las Vegas's The Phantom of the Opera) has the thankless role of the principal. And while the plot has more than a few wholes, this one is all about heart and that shines through clearly.


The Color Purple, Broadway revival

I wasn't the biggest fan of this musical when I saw it on Broadway in its original incarnation once Fantasia took over the role of Celie. But it has now been thrillingly reinvented in this outstanding production by director John Doyle by way of London's Menier Chocolate Factory. Thankfully Cynthia Erivo gets to repeat her performance as Celie because she knocks it out of the park. Her delivery of "I'm Here" earns its instant mid-show standing ovation! The same cannot be said for Jennifer Hudson, the "name" attached to the show. She's just not right for sexy firecracker Shug Avery. Still, she sings beautifully, which forgives a lot. Danielle Brooks of Orange Is The New Black though is perfect in her role of Sofia. This show will probably never be better than it is right now!


Picasso Sculpture at MoMA

A quick walk through this exhibit was enough for me. Picasso was the father of modern painting and for good reason. His work in sculpture varies greatly in terms of success for me. Best were the voluptuous plaster sculptures labeled as being from his Boisgeloup studio in the early 1930s. Those benefit from being three-dimensional, the rest not so much.

January 2016: Chicago

Domesticated at Steppenwolf

Steppenwolf and Bruce Norris make a great pair! While The Qualms and Domesticated may not be masterpieces like Clybourne Park, they are still thought provoking works that entertain. Domesticated premiered in NYC with a starry cast that included Jeff Goldblum and Steppenwolf regular Laurie Metcalf. In its Chicago debut, Norris himself directs the no-name, but excellent cast. The premise of a politician felled by adultery may seem recycled, but this battle of the sexes still plays out interestingly. The background set of a school gymnasium is perfect, not only for the daughter's interwoven presentation about sexual behavior in the animal kingdom, but also for the "games" the adults play. Worthy effort!

Monday, February 15, 2016

November 2015: NYC

Fool For Love, MTC on Broadway

I wasn't sure about this supposed classic by Sam Shephard, but I took a chance, having enjoyed both Nina Arianda and Sam Rockwell in previous stage performances. This one was lost on me though. Seemingly opaque for opaqueness's sake, there just wasn't enough of a story to interest me despite the shouting match onstage. Plus the fact that the two lovers are actually related...yuck!


HIR, Playwrights Horizon off-Broadway

Being a huge fan of Taylor Mac's performance in the Public/Foundry Theaters' production of Bertolt Brecht's Good Person of Szechwan could in no way prepare me for how brilliant of a playwright he would be! This two-act play was the clear highlight of the trip and possibly of the year (and my first time at Playwright's Horizon!). A young soldier returns home from Iraq to find his dad stroked out and his little sister transitioning to a man. Holding it all together with comedic aplomb is the incredible Kristine Nielsen (so good in Christopher Durang's Sonya and Vonya and Masha and Spike). Will her oldest child be able to keep up with her in the new world or will he be left behind like his father? That is the crux of the play and the journey from hilarious beginning to devastating end is as entertaining as it gets. Just as in Hand to God, the Act 2 scene reveal was awesome! Bravo to all involved!!!


A Gentlemen's Guide to Love and Murder

There's a reason it took me so long to see this Tony award winning best musical: this is just not my cup of tea. The main attraction is to see one actor (the very talented Jefferson Mays, who was with the show during its entire run!) performing all 8 characters in the D'Ysquith family who cutie Bryce Pinkham must murder to inherit their fortune/title. Totally forgettable.


Frank Stella retrospective at the new Whitney

While the new Whitney continues to impress, the same cannot be said for Frank Stella. While the original Black Paintings (1958-1960) definitely made their mark, nothing besides the huge recent sculptures in the outdoor space seems as significant.


Dames at Sea, finally on Broadway

While David took in A View From the Bridge (I saw the NT Live telecast), I watched this tiny piece of cross-between-42nd Street-and-Anything Goes fluff. It's not so much a parody as a tribute; however, with only 6 actors, no matter how fast they may tap dance, it just can't reach the heights of the kind of large scale spectacle it truly wants to be.


Spring Awakening, Deaf West on Broadway

It took me a long time to warm up to the original production of SA (I enjoyed it much more the second time around on tour) so I blown away by how great this production from LA's Deaf West Theater was. The mix of hearing and deaf actors heightens the communication divide that the exists between these characters. So many thrilling theatrical moments were created by adding this extra layer. As a side note, I once auditioned for a production of Into the Woods after a young woman in a wheelchair, who wanted the role of Little Red Riding Hood. While the theater in question probably couldn't have accommodated the actress's needs, I was so glad to see her on stage later in a different show, just as I was to see a young actress in a wheelchair on Broadway is this production. This company is rethinking what choreography means. What a great way to end the trip!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

September 2015: Chicago

East of Eden at Steppenwolf

My first introduction to Steppenwolf was through the PBS broadcast of their outstanding production of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath that moved to Broadway in 1990. While adapter and director Frank Galati hasn't struck gold a second time with Steinbeck, this 3-hour play is still a worthy effort. Brilliant acting, direction, and design though can't make up for the fact that there's little that is redeeming in these characters or story. Still, it's fun to spend time with the mother and son bad apples so vividly brought to life in the movie by Jo Van Fleet and James Dean, respectively. While the movie focused on the second half of the story, this version presents the full epic. Despite it's long running time, the story never dragged, though I can't see sitting through this a second time.


Cirque du Soleil's Kurios

Cirque du Soleil's tent shows continue to amaze. While most of the acts appear to be recycled, there are enough new twists to impress even longtime fans. My favorite was a chair balancing act that was mirrored by performers and chairs hanging from the ceiling. Incredible on so many levels! While the shows seem to get shorter and shorter (but the intermissions longer and longer), I still love to spend an evening with the best circus around.


Nature Connects at the Morton Arboretum

Botanical gardens' efforts to incorporate art into natural settings range in quality. Most impressive have been Dale Chihuly's glass exhibits, which thankfully have been seen all over the world. While each individual piece may not be large, groupings can attain the "weight" needed to transform the environment of the display. The same cannot be said of the Lego statues by Sean Kennedy on temporary display at the Morton Arboretum. Other then subject matter, the small pieces do little to add to their surroundings. It was still fun to make a game of the exhibit though, guessing the number of Legos used in each piece and searching the grounds to find all of the works on display.

Monday, August 10, 2015

July 2015: NYC...again!


This two person, one act play proved so popular that it had been extended multiple times and with good reason. The adaptation, from a novel by the same playwright, Simon Stephens, who adapted the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time for the stage, is expert and perfectly suits its star, Mary Louise Parker, with her always watchable quirks and extraordinary range. Her much older playing partner, Denis Arndt, is also excellent and, although unknown to me, matches her in personality and acting ability. This unlikely love story unwinds naturally in Manhattan Theatre Club's smallest theater, set up as an alleyway space with minimal scenery and props. While an absolute joy in such an intimate venue, this one would totally be swallowed up in a Broadway theater. Hopefully, it will have a long life in small theaters across the globe.

Fun Home, this time on Broadway

This was my best of 2013 when we saw it Off-Broadway in the Public's largest, proscenium theater. The new staging in the round at Circle on the Square is a marvel, but it's still the show and the cast that provide all of the heart. A few changes have been made and while I prefer the original ending, this true story of an adult lesbian cartoonist trying to make sense of her father's life and death remains an inspired choice for musical theatre. Well deserving of it's Best Musical Tony! It’s a joy that the amazing Sydney Lucas repeats her role as little Alison, but she’s almost as tall as middle Alison now!

On the 20th Century

The whole purpose for adding this short weekend in NYC was to see Kristin Chenoweth in the revival of this rarely produced musical after she was out sick every performance during our April trip. Thankfully, she was in and on fire! No one on Broadway is working as hard as Ms. Chenoweth is in this show and rarely is an actor as perfectly matched for a role. It's a crime that the boring-by-comparison performance of Kelli O'Hara in the stately revival of The King and I beat her out of a Tony. The show is a delightful diversion and the score doesn't disappoint even though the ending doesn't live up to the preceding hilarity. The always interesting Mary Louise Wilson was out, but her understudy Linda Muggleston seemed more than capable as the nut Mrs. Primrose. Worth the trip!!!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

April 2015: NYC

Hand to God (now on Broadway)

We ran from one theater to another to take this one in at the last minute after Kristin Chenoweth called out of On the Twentieth Century. It was on our list, but we didn’t think we would have a slot to fit it in. Boy, am I glad we did! This is one of the funniest plays I’ve ever seen and the set reveal in act 2 is unbelievably hilarious. The subject matter of a mother and son dealing with the loss of their husband/father is very serious, but the play is not, almost to a fault. Still, it’s pretty thrilling to watch as the evil puppet Tyrone, created in a Texas church puppet class for kids, takes over the boy’s hand that created him and wrecks havoc on everyone involved. The all-adult cast is riveting and this is one play that I actually will pick and read soon.

Bjork at MoMA

I fear the world-wide success of David Bowie Is will spawn a whole host of rocker retrospectives. This one is relatively small, consisting of a theater showing all of Bjork's music videos, another one with a dual-screen music video created especially for MoMA, and a short walk-through of various costumes (including the infamous swan dress the singer wore to the Oscars). The interest in these type of exhibits will be totally dependent on how one feels about the individual artist. Though I've seen her in concert and have at least one of her albums, I was mostly ambivalent about this show, mainly because I can hardly ever understand her.

The Visit (finally on Broadway)

It’s too bad that what will probably be Chita Rivera’s last Broadway role wasn’t in a better show. This dark musical by Kander and Ebb had been kicked around for 10 plus years before finally arriving on Broadway. The musical’s main positive is its dreamy score, which at some points is so hypnotic as to be sleep inducing. While I’ve never seen this story in any form, I find it hard to believe it would ever be satisfying. There’s just no redemption to be found in this unrelenting story of an elderly woman revisiting her hometown to claim the life of her first love who jilted her so long ago. Some interesting directing choices and Chita do elevate the proceedings though to far too little avail. The townspeople are more than willing to give the man up in order to cash in. Roger Rees as the grown-up version of the lover looked very frail and it wasn’t a big shock to learn of his death shortly after the show closed (without him).

The Spring Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall

No place does cheese like Radio City! But there’s enough to thrill, mainly the Rockettes, even in a schlock fest like this one. We wouldn’t have bothered if they didn’t have non-standard showtimes. I hope all involved (Laura Benanti, Diane Paulus, etc.) got a huge payday for this because they definitely “sold-out.” Dancing with the Stars alum Derek Hough was out injured but it didn’t matter, nothing could save this one except for the Rockettes, who unfortunately can’t be onstage the whole time. The story, about an angel (Hough) sent to redeem/prevent a heartless corporate raider (Benanti) from taking over a small-time tour operator, is just an excuse to cram in as many NYC scenic highlights as possible.

The King and I at Lincoln Center

I was looking forward to this revival because I loved, loved, loved the one of South Pacific by the same team (director Barlett Sher with his muse Kelli O’Hara using Lincoln Center’s money) in the same theater. Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed, especially having been bowled over by the Donna Murphy/Lou Diamond Phillips Broadway revival in a production by Christopher Renshaw that played all over the world. Things got off to a good start when a seemingly full-size ship came forward with its mast sweeping out over the audience (it’s best not to sit too close for this one). But it’s inconceivable that an actor, even one of such high acclaim, be allowed to play a lead role if he can’t be understood in every line that comes out of his mouth. I hear that we were actually lucky since supposedly none of Ken Watanabe’s lines as the King could be understood in the first week of previews. I had a problem too with Kelli O’Hara, who just wasn’t believable to me as a refined English woman and I hated some of her (or Sher’s) acting choices, especially in “Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You?” The highlight for me was Here Lies Love star Ruthie Ann Miles’s always watchable, always interesting Lady Thiang. That’s how you do it!

The (new) Whitney Museum of American Art

The Whitney has new digs and boy are they a beauty!!! In its move from a longtime residence on the Upper East Side to a huge, interesting space by Renzo Piano (!) in the Meatpacking District (!!) over the High Line (!!!), the Whitney will be the art world’s must-see for some time to come.

The opening exhibit, entitled America Is Hard To See, plays out over the entire museum and brilliantly shows off the Whitney unmatchable collection of 20th century American art. Likewise, the building itself is a marvel with a great mix of indoor and outdoor spaces. Go! See! Enjoy!

Something Rotten

This completely original musical (how often can you say that anymore?) was an unexpected delight! Yes, it’s silly and jokey and hokey, but it’s also fun and entertaining from start to finish as we watch the world’s first musical be born (not really). The Bottom Brothers are tired of competing against Shakespeare, the cocksure rock star of the theater world as portrayed by Christian Boyle. With the help of Thomas Nostradamus (nephew to the famous seer), the Bottom Brothers do in fact create a musical, but it all goes hilariously awry since their Nostradamus misinterprets most of what he foresees. While nothing that follows can match the “It’s A Musical” number led by the hilarious Brad Oscar’s Nostradamus, the rest of the show is still a delight.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch with John Cameron Mitchell (take 2)

While I hate seeing the last performance of any show, we didn’t have a choice this time around and it’s not like we hadn’t seen this Hedwig multiple times already. John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig is of course definitive. While continuing to be hobbled by the knee blowout that prevented us from seeing him in February, he still amazes in the role and the injury provided much new fodder. The show has a new Yitzhak in the form of personal favorite Rebecca Naomi Jones, who sings and plays the role brilliantly (with her hair in corn-rows!). After the bows, the cast attempted a singalong to Lou Reed’s "Satellite of Love," but not enough people knew the song to make it the love-fest I’m sure they were hoping for.