A Triumphant and Turbulent Brigadoon at the Goodman

The cast of Brigadoon (photo: Goodman Theatre/Liz Lauren via The Broadway Blog).

The cast of Brigadoon (photo: Goodman Theatre/Liz Lauren via The Broadway Blog).

It’s calm waters this summer in New York City as the theater scene rejuvenates for openings this fall. But head west to the Tony Award-winning Goodman Theatre in Chicago you’ll be witness to an emotionally charged production of Lerner & Loewe’s Brigadoon.

The original production opened on Broadway in 1947, choreographed by the iconic Agnes de Mille, and was made into a movie musical starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in 1954. Admittedly, it’s never been a favorite of mine. The clunky story of two Americans wandering off into the Scottish Highlands to discover a town that only appears once every 100 years seemed saccharine and far-fetched. Enter director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell, who was granted permission from the Lerner and Loewe estates to reexamine the work to make it more palatable for 21st century audiences.

Rockwell has made her mark in the Chicago theater scene with critically acclaimed productions of Ragtime, Sweeney Todd, In the Heights, Miss Saigon and countless others. Collaborating with Brian Hill (revised book) and Roberta Duchak (additional vocal and instrumental arrangements), the trio has crafted a palpable production that honors the glorious musical tradition while tapping into the darker history that serves as the show’s inspiration.

Kevin Earley (Tommy Albright) and Jennie Sophia (Fiona MacLaren) in Brigadoon (photo: Goodman Theatre/Liz Lauren via The Broadway Blog).

Kevin Earley (Tommy Albright) and Jennie Sophia (Fiona MacLaren) in Brigadoon (photo: Goodman Theatre/Liz Lauren via The Broadway Blog).

The show follows Tommy (Kevin Earley) and Jeff (Rod Thomas) as they lose their way on a bachelor expedition through the Scottish Highland. They discover the bucolic town of Brigadoon, which has spell cast over it, allowing the village to only appear once every 100 years as a means of protecting it from brutal civil war. “Entire clans were evicted from their ancestral lands, and such traditions as the wearing of tartans were made illegal,” notes the Goodman’s artistic director Robert Falls. “Against this political backdrop, the choice of the villagers of Brigadoon to preserve their way of life by seceding form their embattled land becomes not so much a whimsical dream but a passionate act of courage.”

Tommy falls for Fiona (Jennie Sophia), a villager who is helping to prepare her younger sister Jean (Olivia Renteria) for marriage. Meanwhile, brooding Harry (Rhett Guter) continues to pine for Jean though her love is bestowed on her future husband Charlie (Jordan Brown). You always want what you can’t have, and Brigadoon is no different. Harry has his own crush, Maggie (Katie Spelman), but is too entranced in Jean to notice. If that seems like a lot of Cupid’s arrows to keep track of, fear not, Rockwell is a great storyteller and all is revealed in due time.

Olivia Renteria as Jean MacLaren in Brigadoon (photo: Goodman Theatre/Liz Lauren via The Broadway Blog).

Olivia Renteria as Jean MacLaren in Brigadoon (photo: Goodman Theatre/Liz Lauren via The Broadway Blog).

Hill’s revised book keeps the plot moving at a quick pace and removes many of the clunkers from the original script, but it is the characters’ storytelling through movement—both pedestrian and choreographed—that revitalizes Brigadoon for a new generation. Two sequences in particular capture the breathtaking journeys of young love and heartbreak. The first is Jean’s dance solo as she prepares for her wedding day. Bestowed with her deceased mother’s veil, the young lass transforms before the audience’s eyes from girl to bride, embodying the whimsical emotion, sensuality and joy of a young woman about to be married.

In stark contrast yet with parallel themes, the second act showcases Maggie in a funeral dance. She grieves Harry, who has been killed in an attempt to escape Brigadoon and break the centuries-old spell. In lieu of a veil, she dances with Harry’s tartan sash in a guttural yet exquisite expression of pain, loss and love. Rockwell’s vocabulary of movement, which draws from musical theater, Scottish Country dancing, Highland dances and classical ballet, is a character unto itself.

As one might expect, the plot cleans up tidily in Act II with a somewhat anticlimactic ending as Tommy returns from New York City to Brigadoon to reunite with his ethereal love. But who could blame him? In a world imagined by Rockwell and her collaborators, it’s a glorious place to be.

Brigadoon
Goodman Theatre
170 North Dearborn
Through August 17

Matthew Wexler is the Broadway Blog’s editor. He has written for Passport, Hamptons Magazine, Sherman’s Travel, Gothamist, Travel WeeklyPrivate Islands, among others, and is the national style and travel editor for EDGE Media Network. Follow him on Twitter at @roodeloo.

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Celebrity Autobiography Returns Aug. 18

celebCelebrity Autobiography returns this August, welcoming to its cast stars of stage & screen Mario Cantone (Sex and the City), Rachel Dratch (Saturday Night Live), Scott Adsit (30 Rock), Drama Desk-winners Eugene Pack & Dayle Reyfel and comedy legend Alan Zweibel for a special NYC performance on Monday, August 18 at 7pm at Stage 72 (158 West 72nd Street).

Celebrating its fifth hit year, Celebrity Autobiography is still playing to sold out crowds and going strong with several new ‘hot off the press’ selections from the likes of One Direction, Kris Jenner and Pippa Middleton and new mash-ups from their hysterical “Rock n’ Roll”, “Sports Hall of Fame”, “Political” and “Fitness” editions.

Mario Cantone  (photo by Andrew Werner via The Broadway Blog)

Mario Cantone (photo by Andrew Werner via The Broadway Blog)

Created by Eugene Pack and developed by Pack and Dayle Reyfel, audiences at Celebrity Autobiography will be treated to an entertaining evening as an eclectic mix of talented and hilarious performers act out excerpts from a range of celebrity tell-alls. Who knows… you may hear interpretations from the true-life musings of Justin Bieber, Gwyneth Paltrow, Beyoncé or Miley Cyrus. Past mash-ups themes have included Sports Icons, Food Obsessions, and Burt Reynolds & Loni Anderson and their secretary.

Celebrity Autobiography
Stage 72 (158 West 72nd Street)
Monday, August 18, 7 p.m.

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Review: The Music Box, an Evening of Lady Composers

LOGO-MusicBoxMusical theater gets a bad rep, and go figure, with today’s landscape of shimmering esoteric music, there is a glassy-eyed artifice to it all that hasn’t—shockingly enough—permeated today’s pop music. Today’s scores often suffer from an epidemic of unoriginality in a post-Sondheim/Webber era. Sure, audiences love watching choir boys and girls flash their Vaseline smiles while tap dancing in unison to modern-day panaches of Broadway’s finest numbers that were fashionable (and more immediate) then, but for today’s younger audiences, there’s a disconnect. Critics largely quarrel over the same points, that 1.) Theater songwriters aren’t writing what they know, and 2.) Theater songwriters don’t know how to write take-away tunes. But there seems to be another problem: musical theater works for mainstream audiences often lack diversity.

The New York Musical Theatre Festival returns with its second annual “The Music Box: An Evening Of Lady Composers,” a showcase geared to shining a light on women, who are for lack of a better word, largely underrepresented in the world of musical theater. Held within the Ford Foundation Studio Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center for back-to-back one night only performance, the cozy sing-along certainly had its fair-share of soullessly neutered balladry with predictable rhymes, but that doesn’t mean there was lack of talent.

“Our Chit-Chat Hour,” a quirky, piano-plinking affair with music by Linda Dowdell and lyrics by Sara Wordsworth, mélanges Valley of the Dolls and The Stepford Wives for today’s esoteric music lovers and contemporary women obsessed with anti-aging and the ideal body. The Anna K. Jacobs-penned “Echo,” a simmering soft rock mother-daughter duet sung by Angela Howell and Dara Hartman, delivers a killer repetitious hook that stays in your head long after the show is over. Dara Hartman, who also performed as part of the trio of “Our Chit-Chat Hour” alongside mezzos Shannon Tyo and Ali Ewoldt, provided exceptional performances with her warm, sultry pipes and star-quality presence. Ali Ewoldt, a gamine ingénue with a bright soprano, delivered Tony-nominated songwriter Amanda Green’s riotously funny “I’d Rather Be With You.” Green’s savvy was also exhibited in “Waiting On My Thank You,” performed by Allyson Tucker. The song, with its summery pop sound has the chops to really hit on Broadway.

There were also composers with a more pop-oriented sound that airlifted the show to new heights. Emily Walton’s “Open,” a humorous confession of a girl looking to enter an open-relationship with her unsatisfactory beau, produced its desired chap-chap stomp-stomp arena piano rock moment with bombast. Walton’s rendition of Tidtaya Sinutoke’s “Running” from Sinutoke’s and Ty Defoe’s new musical Clouds Are Pillows For The Moon, was heartwarming and celestial.

The highlight of the 65-minute showcase was the schizophrenic fever dream of Grace McLean’s agitpop 11 o’clock number, “Break Up With You.” With the ethereal and acrobatic vocal loop torch song—solidified by a variety of glitches, fade-in/fade-outs, hiccups and stop/starts—Ms. McLean cleverly bridges a gap between Kimbra’s blue-eyed soul and Fiona Apple’s angst, with a song designed to flirt the whimsy of the Skrillex and Calvin Harris fan base. The fiery ginger singer-songwriter, who juxtaposes a puckish Tank Girl joie de vivre with Florence Welch’s waiflike midnight-on-the-moors façade on stage, also thrilled the audience mid-show with a funny rendition of “My Friend’s Roommate,” a comedic tune that blends acoustic folk-rock and reggae that may evoke promises of a duet between Jason Mraz and Lily Allen. Sure, these comparisons are all over the place, but then again, aren’t we the sum of our experiences? Every artist mires in the sounds of their influences before infiltrating the music and theatrical scenes with something new. Grace McLean is no different; though it’s fair she’s far ahead of the curve. It’s only a matter of time until she’s built her empire of dutiful aficionados.

Until then, like the concert suggests, she remains one of the many off-the-radar female lyric composers you’ve likely never heard of. The good new is, for now, that the ticket prices stay cheaper. But discovery is just around the corner.

Marcus Scott, an MFA graduate of NYU Tisch, is a playwright, musical theater writer and journalist whose work has appeared in Elle, Out, Essence, Uptown, Trace, Giant, Hello Beautiful and Edge Media Network.

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VIP Access: The Old Globe Gala on July 26

The post-performance party at the 2013 Globe Gala, Sept. 21, 2013. Photo by Doug Gates via The Broadway Blog.

The post-performance party at the 2013 Globe Gala, Sept. 21, 2013. Photo by Doug Gates via The Broadway Blog.

Calling all southern Californians! Head to the Old Globe this Saturday for the 2014 Globe Gala in support of the theater’s education and artistic programs. The annual event will feature a one-night-only performance by Broadway veteran and Tony Award winner Laura Benanti (Gypsy, Into the Woods, NBC’s The Sound of Music Live!, “The Good Wife,” “Go On”), based on her smash hit New York cabaret (and new CD) In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention. Nina Doede, Deni Jacobs, and Sheryl White serve as Co-Chairs of the 2014 Globe Gala. Leading underwriters include Audrey Geisel, Darlene Marcos Shiley, Conrad Prebys and Debra Turner, and Sheryl and Harvey White.

Laura Benanti (photo: The Old Globe via The Broadway Blog.)

Laura Benanti (photo: The Old Globe via The Broadway Blog.)

Laura Benanti has brought her unique abilities to comedies, dramas, and musicals since she took Broadway by storm at the age of 18. She received a Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, and a Tony Award nomination for her starring role in the Broadway production of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown for Lincoln Center Theater, where she also starred in Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or the vibrator play. Benanti also demonstrated her comic flair in The Public Theater’s production of Christopher Durang’s Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them.

Benanti earned the 2008 Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for her revelatory portrayal of Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy opposite Patti LuPone and directed by Arthur Laurents. Her other Broadway roles include her Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award-nominated performance of Cinderella in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods and her sultry Tony-nominated turn in Swing! She also starred opposite Antonio Banderas as his muse in the celebrated revival of Nine. In September 2013, she released her debut album, In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention: Live at 54 Below on Broadway Records, to ecstatic reviews.

(center, from left) Old Globe Artistic Director Barry Edelstein and Managing Director Michael G. Murphy with 2014 Globe Gala Co-Chairs (from left) Sheryl White, Nina Doede, and Deni Jacobs. The Old Globe's 2014 Gala will take place on Saturday, July 26. Photo by Doug Gates.

(center, from left) Old Globe Artistic Director Barry Edelstein and Managing Director Michael G. Murphy with 2014 Globe Gala Co-Chairs (from left) Sheryl White, Nina Doede, and Deni Jacobs. The Old Globe’s 2014 Gala will take place on Saturday, July 26. Photo by Doug Gates via the Broadway Blog.

The black-tie event will begin with a reception on the Globe’s Copley Plaza, followed by Benanti’s performance on the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage in the Old Globe Theatre, part of the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center. After the performance, dinner and dancing to the music of the 13-piece dance band Midnight Special will commence on the Globe’s Copley Plaza. The Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina, led by new Executive Chef Terry Guise, will cater the reception and dinner, and valet parking is included in the price of the ticket.

Tickets are $750 (regular seating) and $1,000 (VIP seating) each and include the reception, performance, dinner, and dancing. To purchase tickets or a table or to become an underwriter, contact Eileen Prisby, Events Manager, at (619) 231-1941 x2303 or eprisby@TheOldGlobe.org.

The Tony Award-winning Old Globe is one of the country’s leading professional regional theatres and has stood as San Diego’s flagship arts institution for over 75 years. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Barry Edelstein and Managing Director Michael G. Murphy, The Old Globe produces a year-round season of 14 productions of classic, contemporary, and new works on its three Balboa Park stages: the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage in the 600-seat Old Globe Theatre and the 250-seat Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, both part of The Old Globe’s Conrad Prebys Theatre Center, and the 605-seat outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, home of its internationally renowned Shakespeare Festival.

More than 250,000 people attend Globe productions annually and participate in the theatre’s education and community programs. Numerous world premieres such as 2014 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, A Catered Affair, and the annual holiday musical Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! have been developed at The Old Globe and have gone on to enjoy highly successful runs on Broadway and at regional theaters across the country. Learn more at www.TheOldGlobe.org.

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“Phoenix” Rises Off Broadway This August

(photo: Harry Fellows via The Broadway Blog)

(photo: Harry Fellows via The Broadway Blog)

If you’re looking for a little summer romance with a twist, we’ve got our eyes on a new play opening at the Cherry Lane Theatre. What happens four weeks after a one-night stand? That’s the question tackled by Phoenix, a new play by Scott Organ starring Julia Stiles and James Wirt. A story that travels across 4,000 miles, the play showcases two people tackling the ideas of love and compulsion, forcing them consider a whole new world of possibility, though not one free of difficulty and loss.

The creative team includes direction by Jennifer DeLia, scenic design by Caite Hevner Kemp, costume design by Amit Gajwani, lighting design by Oona Curley, sound design by Janie Bullard and scenic art by Burton Machen.

Phoenix
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street
July 28 – August 3

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Categories: The Buzz, Way Off Broadway

NYMF Reviews: As We Lie Still; Der Gelbe Stern (The Yellow Star)

The New York Musical Theatre Festival is in full swing. We caught two shows this week that capture varying degrees of success in the development of new work.

ShowArtworkAs We Lie Still is a musical fantasy that follows magician Avi Leiter (Travis Stuebing as Young Avi and Michael A. Robinson as Old Avi) and his rise to fame during the turn of the century. His one epic trick—the ability to bring his assistant Josephine (Olivia de Guzman Emile) is hampered when she is mesmerized by Azriel, gatekeeper to the afterlife (George Michael Ferrie, Jr.). The show flashes forward to show Hope (Erika Larsen), the daughter that Josephine gave up for adoption at the bedside of her coma-ridden husband, Michael (Clinton Greenspan). Will Old Avi be able to cast his spell one last time?

The production, staged by Broadway veteran Micahel Serrecchia (who appeared in the original A Chorus Line and has worked in the theater for 45 years) has great moment of theatricality, mostly because of the music and lyrics by Patrick Emile. “I set out to write a musical theater piece that explored the human experience in the style of magical realism,” Emile told the Broadway Blog.  “I have a great interest in stage magic and the vaudeville era, as well folklore, the supernatural, etc.  I had stumbled upon the term psychopomp (the culturally and historically ubiquitous being that transitions the dying into the next phase of existence), and the story began to click together like a puzzle. Once plotted, Olivia took it into the book writing stage.”

As We Lie Still’s book is less successful than its libretto, often feeling too earnest and as if each of the characters were cut from the same cloth. But at this stage of development, it’s serviceable and carries the plot along to frame Emile’s score, which has soaring moments. In particular, Azriel’s number, “Street of Mine” is a highlight of the show—delivered by Mr. Ferrie who has one of the strongest voices in the ensemble.

“My musical influences are many and vary greatly, but I tend to wear them all on my sleeve,” says Emile of his composing style. “For As We Lie Still, I chose to draw heavily from minimalist and post-minimalist wells and weave those ideas within a contemporary musical theatre fabric. Sondheim is of course floating around throughout.”

As We Lie Still is an interesting concept piece. I’m not sure what sort of life it may have after NYMF, but as Avi Leiter would testify, anything is possible.

As We Lie Still
PTC Performance Space
555 West 42nd Street
Remaining performances:
Tuesday, July 22, 9 p.m.
Thursday, July 24, 5 p.m.
Sunday, July 27, 5 p.m.

Alexis Fishman in "Der Gelbe Stern" (photo: Alina Gozin'a via The Broadway Blog).

Alexis Fishman in “Der Gelbe Stern” (photo: Alina Gozin’a via The Broadway Blog).

Move over Sally Bowles, there is a new girl in town. Der Gelbe Stern (The Yellow Star), follows fictional chanteuse Erika Stern (a show stopping Alexis Fishman) on her final cabaret performance in Berlin circa 1933. Conceived and co-written by Fishman, who won NYMF’s “Next Broadway Sensation in 2012”, the musical draws its inspiration from German, American and British cabaret songs of the 1920 and ‘30s.

Ms. Fishman’s performance is subtly delicious, from the opening moments where the audience thinks she’s wiping cocaine from her nose; there are far darker stories to be revealed. Along with piano player Otto (an equally as entertaining Heath Saunders) and two-piece band (Steve Millhouse on bass and Giuseppe Fusco on woodwinds) the four actor/musicians weave a harrowing tale of Nazi Germany.

“I created Der Gelbe Stern to better understand and connect o to the unconnectable. It is so easy to put up barriers that allow us to disassociate from the plight of others. The lives of European Jewry were so much like our lives today… until they weren’t,” says Ms. Fishman in her program notes.

Alexis Fishman as Erika Stern (Photo: Alina Gozin'a via The Broadway Blog).

Alexis Fishman as Erika Stern (Photo: Alina Gozin’a via The Broadway Blog).

It may be a bit unfair to bestow such accolades on the piece compared to other NYMF entries, as the work opened in Australia at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2011 followed by runs in Melbourne and Sydney. The polished show feels as if it’s ready for an extended run. That being said, director Sharone Halevy still has the potential to draw more out of Ms. Fishman’s performance, which at times feels emotionally guarded. As she nears the end and the inevitable awaits, she has the audience in the palm of her hand and could take her final numbers, “If You Go Away, Little Boy” and “I Don’t Know Who I Belong To” in a more visceral direction. But the fictional Erika Stern is a survivalist, and perhaps the wall that she has built is one to protect her beyond Der Gelbe Stern.

Der Gelbe Stern (The Yellow Star)
The Laurie Beechman Theatre at the West Bank Cafe
407 West 42nd Street
Remaining Performances:
Sunday, July 20, 12 p.m.
Monday, July 21, 5 p.m.
Monday, July 21, 8 p.m.

Matthew Wexler is the editor of the Broadway Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @roodeloo.

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Elaine Stritch: Saying Goodbye to One of Broadway’s Bawdiest Broads

Elaine Stritch at the 2009 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. (Image via Paul Smith/FeatureFlash)

Elaine Stritch at the 2009 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. (Image via Paul Smith/FeatureFlash)

One of Broadway’s bawdiest broads, Elaine Stritch, passed away today at the age of 89. Her early career included the 1952 revival of Pal Joey and Bus Stop in 1955, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award. The next 60 years were packed with stage, film and television appearances. Younger audiences may remember her biting guest spots as Alec Baldwin’s mother on 30 Rock.

Other legendary performances include the role of Joanne in Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company (1970), Elaine Stritch At Liberty (2001) and a revival of A Little Night Music (2010). Never shy, here are some of our favorite quotes from Stritch over the years… we’ll remember her fondly!

On the difference between people in New York and Detroit (Vanity Fair, 2013)
“The people in New York, their humor is on a level that goes, uh, very deep, you know? Very deep, and there’s not as many people in on the joke like they are in New York. You know what I’m talking about? That’s what I love about New York—the humor of New York is brilliant. Brilliant.”

On roles that she’d like to take on (Movieweb.com, 2010)
“Well for the past eight, nine years I’ve been playing myself. And I’m rather happy about it. I think I’m a good acting partner for me, you know? And I don’t have anybody else but me. I seem to do very well. There’s no room for any difference of opinions – nothing. I just do anything in the world I like up there. Of course I think I’ve been doing that all my life anyway.

Great one-liners from her interview at the 92 Street Y:

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Categories: Show Folk, The Buzz

THEATER BUFF: Nick Cearley of “Pageant” & “The Skivvies”

July 16th, 2014 View Comment(s)

Every third Wednesday of the month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer fills out contributor Tom Mizer’s nosey little questionnaire and offers a glimpse of what he looks like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. For July, we’re crowning a very special man of the month…

Nick Cearly with Lauren Molina of "The Skivvies". Photo by Michelle Blake.

Nick Cearley with Lauren Molina of “The Skivvies”. Photo by Michelle Blake.

Name:  Nick Cearley

Hometown:  Fairfield, Ohio (Between Dayton and Cincinnati)

Current Show/Role:  Pageant as Miss Great Plains and 1/2 of “The Skivvies”

The best part of the show I’m in now is:  Getting to take my make up off.  

The most challenging job in show business I ever had was:  Being a swing!

If I wasn’t a performer, I would be:  I don’t know how to do anything else.

The best pre-show dinner and post-show cocktail in town are at: I love Lillie’s supreme nachos.  And actually, I am a beer snob so I love Beer Culture right next to the theatre on 45th so I enjoy going there after the show.

After you’ve hit all the traditional sights of New York City, you should totally go to:  Sleepy Hollow (Tarrytown) in the fall.  The town turns into a Halloween love letter and the Pumpkin Blaze is something I look forward to all year long. Read more…

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Categories: Theater Buff

Nicky Silver’s “Pterodactyls” Receives NYC Revival

The cast of "Pterodactyls" (photo: Noemi Charlotte Thieves via The Broadway Blog).

The cast of “Pterodactyls” (photo: Noemi Charlotte Thieves via The Broadway Blog).

Twenty years before receiving his first Broadway production, Nicky Silver scorched onto the New York scene with Pterodactyls, a blazingly prophetic play that seems more urgent by the day. This viciously hilarious yet humane story about the rotting core of the American family suggests that our extinction is beginning not with an asteroid or an ice age, but rather with a severed connection to the ones closest to us.

When a young man returns home with a diagnosis of AIDS, we expect mother, father, and sister to rush to his side. However, the entire Duncan family is too absorbed in its own individual miseries (Hypochondria! Marriage! Nostalgia! Hors d’oeuvres!) to care much about a close-to-home case of a pandemic illness. Unable to communicate about a single thing, the Duncans start to disintegrate, and the audience begins to see that their son’s diagnosis is actually the least of their worries.

This summer, Pterodactyls is returning to the New York stage for a long overdue revival. Directed by Stephen Kaliski and starring Lori Kee, Maggie Low, Jeremiah Maestas, Dennis Gagomiros and Roger Manix, this hard-hitting production brings vibrant new life to an early masterpiece of one of America’s most uncompromising voices. Transcending the categorizations of “AIDS play” or “LGBT-themed drama,” Pterodactyls is a desperate journey to the real source of our problems, the loss of the American family.

Pterodactyls features set design by Peri Grabin Leong, lighting design Jessica Greenberg, costume design by Marisa Kaugars and sound design by Adam Salberg.

Pterodactyls
at Teatro Circulo
64 East 4th Street
Performances July 17 – August 3, 2014
Monday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets may be purchased online at: http://www.ptero-play.com/tickets.html
Ticket Info: $15 students (with valid ID) and seniors; $18 general admission

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Categories: The Buzz, Way Off Broadway

Review: Somewhere With You

"Somewhere With You" (photo: Jeanette Aultz via The Broadway Blog.)

“Somewhere With You” (photo: Jeanette Aultz via The Broadway Blog.)

Now in it’s 11th year, the New York Musical Theatre Festival returns for three weeks of ingenious works in progress, all vying for the tiara of best musical, in hopes they will get picked up by a bevy of the city’s finest producers. Of the nearly 500 shows curated at NYMF, only three—Next To Normal, [title of show] and Chaplin—have made it to Broadway, and several musicals like Altar Boyz, Yank! and last year’s Volleygirls, which is being developed at New World Stages, have become cult hits.

With some tinkering, the JT Harding and Peter Zinn penned honky-tonk country rock musical Somewhere With You may join the latter. Offering a vicious yarn of addiction and meta-commentary of Bush’s war on terrorism, this Nashville radio-inspired musical gives a 21-gun salute to red-blooded Americans.

Somewhere With You follows TJ (Graham Scott Fleming), an aspiring 19-year-old country music star in backwoods Shreveport, Louisiana, down on his luck after losing his job for “sucking helium from a Slurpee machine” at the local Burger King. When his father evicts him from his trailer park home, TJ, now homeless and destitute, his cumbersome best friend Drew (Jonathan Judge-Russo) takes him in, much to the chagrin of Drew’s demanding girlfriend Nancy (Lauren Hoffmeier).

It doesn’t take long before TJ is kicked out and left to slum it with Benjaman Bakerman (Andrew Rothenberg), a sleazoid petty pusherman that may rival James Franco’s white bread ‘ratchet’ Spring Breakers alter ego. In lieu of a place to crash, Bakerman, a distributor of Methamphetamine, forces TJ to move his product. But the bright-eyed, fresh-faced Nashville crazed singer-songwriter has to know what he’s selling first.

Thus, TJ is sent to a room to try it out. There he has an unexpected meeting of the minds with crystal meth buff “23,” a spaced out young woman nicknamed after a spy on her mother’s favorite espionage TV show. This chance encounter spearheads the star-crossed couple into dangerous territory when they fall in love with one another.

Katy Frame (23) in "Somewhere With You." (Photo: Craig Bagno via The Broadway Blog.)

Katy Frame (23) in “Somewhere With You.” (Photo: Craig Bagno via The Broadway Blog.)

A prisoner to a drug lord and narcotrafficker, TJ is convinced by “23” to take Drew’s car and leave town, and so the two love birds elope and get clean. A happy ending seems just around the corner, until TJ enlists with the U.S. National Guard on the eve of September 11, 2001. His tenure with the military takes him around the globe while his vulnerable ex-junkie wife is left to her own devices. Things get ugly for the cast and spectators, as Act Two pivots the audience into the Third World of Husaybah, Iraq, and violence balloons. This is not for the faint of heart.

Zinn’s book feels contrived and convoluted at points, if not staggeringly offensive. For instance, shortly after the two love interests meet for the first time in the dark room sharing stories over a bonfire of crystal meth, they are interrupted by Bakerman who proceeds to carry a terrified “23” away before forcing himself on her. Not even a moment later, TJ sings a ballad about how smitten he is about the shell of woman being sexually assaulted in the next room. It is such a moment that one could argue reinforces the insouciant red flags of rape culture. Especially in the first act, the book does similar things in terms of juxtaposition, taking diegetic songs—most of which were previously written and recorded by celebrated artists like Kenny Chesney, Uncle Kracker and Jake Owen—and dropping them in chancy moments that rarely progress the story. But the talented cast anchors many of the glitches.

The cast of young actors, featuring neat cameo appearances by Jay Thomas (Emmy Award winner for Cheers), crafts a believable tale. Graham Scott Fleming’s voice, a silver toned baritenor with raspy tinge, searches the room with soulful, yearning eyes that sees wonder in everything. Katy Frame as “23” is spellbinding, hooking the audience with her warped ingénue character who has been weathered by life, showing a range and hardened exterior rarely seen in performers her age. Her Vaseline smile seems numbed by Novocain and peppered with pain. Jonathan Judge-Russo as Drew echoes America’s answer to James Corden, his offbeat humor tinged with a lick of self-deprecation. Lauren Hoffmeier’s aggressive alto, however, feels unfocused with signs of struggling vocal technique as she attempts to reach the soaring rafter-shaking notes that have become a standard in the musical theater canon.

Nevertheless, this occasionally controversial new musical inspires chill-inducing concerns, questioning the unnerving problems centralized around war and drugs. From the dissection of AA culture to faulty psych evaluations in admitting prospective legionnaires, the production raises profound inquiries for the both the mind as well as the heart.

Somewhere With You
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center
480 W. 42nd St
Remaining performances: Sunday, July 14 – 12 p.m., 4 p.m.

Marcus Scott, an MFA graduate of NYU Tisch, is a playwright, musical theater writer and journalist whose work has appeared in Elle, Out, Essence, Uptown, Trace, Giant, Hello Beautiful and Edge Media Network.

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