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Review: ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore

April 30th, 2015 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

"'Tis Pity She's a Whore" (photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

“‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” (photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

In 1604, Hamlet railed against his mother for marrying his uncle, condemning her for speeding “with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” Well, you might argue, there’s no blood relationship here so—technical definitions aside—maybe he’s getting his tights in a knot over a relative triviality. Not so, however, in John Ford’s once highly controversial ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (c. 1630-1633), written around a quarter century later, during the Caroline era (a program note calls it Jacobean), where a young brother and sister, Giovanni (Matthew Amendt) and Annabella (Amelia Pedlow), have no qualms about thrashing about dexterously in those incestuous sheets. In fact, in Jesse Berger’s competent, if uninspired, direction of this rarely produced play for Red Bull Theater, the lusty siblings even get to romp in the birthday suits they wore in the mother’s womb they shared.

Amelia Pedlow, Franchelle Stewart Dorn and Matthew Amendt in "'Tis Pity She's a Whore" (photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Amelia Pedlow, Franchelle Stewart Dorn and Matthew Amendt in “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” (photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Unless you recall that the play’s Cheek by Jowl revival at BAM in 2012 was centered around a bed in which not only the brother and sister but various others got it on, this sex scene might seem at least a mildly innovative touch in an otherwise stodgy staging. There’s a degree of originality in Sara Jane Tosetti’s peculiar mishmash of costume periods and styles, but only some of them click, like the iniquitous Vasques’s (Derek Smith, slyness personified) punkish gear, while others don’t, like the bizarre getup with high heels and short, fur jacket worn by the foppish fool, Bergetto (Ryan Garbayo, unfunny).

The text seems mostly in place, save for brief moments where the functions of local law enforcement officers or banditti have been taken by the main characters, or when only one actor (Kelley Curran) performs the masque (like having a D.J. instead of a band). David M. Barber’s set reflects early 17th century practices: wood-paneled walls, an inner-below through which a bed can be thrust, an overhead gallery, and four entryways. Peter West’s lighting, apart from some unwelcome facial shadows, has some nice effects.

’Tis Pity, set in Parma, Italy, has subplots but they all coalesce around the main one of Giovanni and Annabella’s guiltless passion, which culminates in her pregnancy. Involved in the whirl of corruption are Giovanni’s confessor, the horrified Friar Bonaventura (Christopher Innvar); three rivals for the disinterested Annabella’s hand, Grimaldi (Tramell Tillman, in a Mohawk), Soranzo (Clifton Duncan, impressively six-packed), and Bergetto; the siblings’ father, Florio (Philip Goodwin), anxious that his daughter make a suitable match; Annabella’s bawdy tutoress, Putana (Franchella Steward Dorn, nicely earthy), who encourages the incestuous affair; Hippolita (Ms. Curran, looking like Snow White’s wicked stepmother), out to avenge herself on Soranzo, the lover who betrayed her; Hippolita’s supposedly deceased husband, Richardetto (Mark Vietor), disguised as a doctor (but looking more like a British vicar) so he can ferret out her adulterous behavior; Vasques, Soranzo’s scheming Spanish servant; Philotis (Auden Thornton), Richardetto’s callow niece, in love with the asinine Bergetto, bane of his wealthy uncle, Donado (Everett Quinton); and the red-robed Cardinal (Rocco Sisto), the pope’s man in Parma, who speaks the tag line that gives the play its name.

Kelley Curran and Clifton Duncan in "'Tis Pity She's a Whore" (photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Kelley Curran and Clifton Duncan in “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” (photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Aside from several fuzzy passages, the richly poetic language is more accessible to a first-time listener than most of Shakespeare’s plays. Like others of its time, Ford’s melodrama presents a brimming cauldron of love, lust, betrayal, cunning, jealousy, and evil, with a sadists’ holiday of blood, guts, and gore for dessert. There’s a full menu of stabbings, Gloucester-like double eye gougings, death by poisoned sword and poisoned drink, and heart attacks, with the Grand Guignol pièce de resistance when the blood-smeared Giovanni displays Annabella’s heart stuck on his dagger like a cherry-red ice cream pop.

Amendt and Pedlow make an attractive pair of familial sex partners, and receive satisfactory support from several supporting players, notably Dorn, Smith, and Curran, but no one rises to the next level. Seeking an educational experience in learning about this little-known classic? The Red Bull production will help. Seeking a distinctive aesthetic experience? Not so much.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore
Red Bull Theater at The Duke on 42nd Street
229 West 42nd Street
Through May 16

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

Review: Doctor Zhivago

April 29th, 2015 Comments off
"Doctor Zhivago" (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

“Doctor Zhivago” (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

What’s the funniest musical on Broadway? Contrary to critical acclaim, it’s not Something Rotten! (though it offers more than its fair share of laughs). It’s the other something rotten playing at the Broadway Theatre: Doctor Zhivago.  

One can only imagine what Russian author Boris Pasternak might think of the dramatic schlock that has been made from his 1958 Nobel Prize-winning novel of the same name.

Producers describe the show as “an epic romance set during the final days of Czarist Russia, the First World War and the chaos of the Russian revolution.”

Epic, yes… epic disaster.

Kelli Barrett and Tam Mutu in "Doctor Zhivago" (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Kelli Barrett and Tam Mutu in “Doctor Zhivago” (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

With a book by Michael Weller, lyrics by Michael Korie and Amy Powers, and music by Lucy Simon, the story follows physician Yurii Zhivago (Tam Mutu) throughout the country’s early 20th century political upheaving. As the nation crumbles, so does Zhivago’s marriage to Tonia Gromeko (Lara Lee Gayer) upon his meeting of the fiery Lara Guishar (Kelli Barrett), whose own husband, Pasha (Paul Alexander Nolan) wreaks havoc amid Russia’s fragile government.

The 1965 film adaptation won five Academy Awards (including Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium) so there’s no doubt that the source material offers more than its fair share of inspiration, and it’s hard to tell what may have come of it had the production been in someone else’s hands besides director Des McAnuff.

I’m pretty confident that McAnuff (two-time Tony winner for Jersey Boys and The Who’s Tommy) had a “Freaky Friday” experience with Mel Brooks, for there’s no other way to explain the over-the-top-shenanigans slathered across the stage. Actors are constantly running in and out of scenes as if the theater was on fire, shrieking and screaming the dialogue as if the audience was in Westchester.

"Doctor Zhivago" (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

“Doctor Zhivago” (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

While I’d like to have a pity party for McAnuff and team given the complexity of the material, I would rather remind readers of Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, and Cameron Mackintosh, who rather miraculously transformed Victor Hugo’s Les Misérablesanother tale of revolution, love and loss—into a worldwide phenomenon. I’ll draw another misfortunate parallel in that of leading man Tam Mutu, who is a poor man’s version of the current Les Miz’s Ramin Karimloo, with neither the voice or acting chops to pull off the wildly passionate Zhivago.

As Zhivago’s wife, Lara Lee Gayer is modestly able to wrangle the unwieldy text, score and direction, but Kelli Barrett, weighted down under a wig that must have been purchased from a Ricky’s post-Halloween sale rack, is ridiculously over the top as she chews her way through Michael Scott-Mitchell’s set (which might actually help the overall aesthetic) and snaps her head in double-takes worthy of The Producers—garnering just about as many laughs from the audience. Paul Alexander Nolan as the revolutionary gone bad shows the most potential, with a spectacular voice and commanding presence, yet even he flounders under the production’s heavy-handed direction.

There are nearly 40 producers listed above the title in the playbill and I have to wonder if any of them saw Doctor Zhivago before opening night—and if they did, what sort of theatrical medicine they hoped might resurrect the production. Unfortunately, this diagnosis is terminal.

Doctor Zhivago
Broadway Theatre
1681 Broadway
Open-ended run.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at roodeloo

2015 Tony Award Nominations

April 28th, 2015 Comments off

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'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

We’ve survived side shows and Russian revolutions (barely), foul-mouthed puppets and dreamlike trips to Paris… but what resonated with the Tony nominating committee this year? Since 1947, the theater community has honored its own with the coveted Antoinette Perry Award. Here are this year’s nominations. Who do you predict will take home the coveted medallion?

We’ve highlighted shows that we’ve reviewed this season. Click to see if our opinions stack up with Tony voters and see you on the red carpet this June!

Nominations for the 2015 American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards®
Presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing

 

Steven Boyer in "Hand to God" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Steven Boyer in “Hand to God” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Best Play
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Author: Simon Stephens

Disgraced
Author: Ayad Akhtar

Hand to God
Author: Robert Askins

Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Co-Authors: Hilary Mantel and Mike Poulton


Best Musical
An American in Paris
Fun Home
Something Rotten!
The Visit


Best Revival of a Play
The Elephant Man
Skylight
This Is Our Youth
You Can’t Take It with You

Megan Fairchild and the cast of 'On the Town' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Megan Fairchild and the cast of ‘On the Town’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Best Revival of a Musical
The King and I
On the Town
On the Twentieth Century

Best Book of a Musical
An American in Paris
Craig Lucas

Fun Home
Lisa Kron

Something Rotten!
Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell

The Visit
Terrence McNally


Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Fun Home
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics: Lisa Kron

The Last Ship
Music & Lyrics: Sting

Something Rotten!
Music & Lyrics: Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick

The Visit
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Steven Boyer, Hand to God
Bradley Cooper, The Elephant Man
Ben Miles, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Bill Nighy, Skylight
Alex Sharp, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Elisabeth Moss in "The Heidi Chronicles" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Elisabeth Moss in “The Heidi Chronicles” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Geneva Carr, Hand to God
Helen Mirren, The Audience
Elisabeth Moss, The Heidi Chronicles
Carey Mulligan, Skylight
Ruth Wilson, Constellations

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Michael Cerveris, Fun Home
Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris
Brian d’Arcy James, Something Rotten!
Ken Watanabe, The King and I
Tony Yazbeck, On the Town

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Kristin Chenoweth, On the Twentieth Century
Leanne Cope, An American in Paris
Beth Malone, Fun Home
Kelli O’Hara, The King and I
Chita Rivera, The Visit

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Matthew Beard, Skylight
K. Todd Freeman, Airline Highway
Richard McCabe, The Audience
Alessandro Nivola, The Elephant Man
Nathaniel Parker, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Micah Stock, It’s Only a Play

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Annaleigh Ashford, You Can’t Take It with You
Patricia Clarkson, The Elephant Man
Lydia Leonard, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Sarah Stiles, Hand to God
Julie White, Airline Highway

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Christian Borle, Something Rotten!
Andy Karl, On the Twentieth Century
Brad Oscar, Something Rotten!
Brandon Uranowitz, An American in Paris
Max von Essen, An American in Paris

The cast of "Gigi" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of “Gigi” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Victoria Clark, Gigi
Judy Kuhn, Fun Home
Sydney Lucas, Fun Home
Ruthie Ann Miles, The King and I
Emily Skeggs, Fun Home

Best Scenic Design of a Play
Bunny Christie and Finn Ross, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Bob Crowley, Skylight
Christopher Oram, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
David Rockwell, You Can’t Take It with You

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Bob Crowley and 59 Productions, An American in Paris
David Rockwell, On the Twentieth Century
Michael Yeargan, The King and I
David Zinn, Fun Home

Best Costume Design of a Play
Bob Crowley, The Audience
Jane Greenwood, You Can’t Take It with You
Christopher Oram, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
David Zinn, Airline Highway

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Gregg Barnes, Something Rotten!
Bob Crowley, An American in Paris
William Ivey Long, On the Twentieth Century
Catherine Zuber, The King and I

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Paule Constable, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Paule Constable and David Plater, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Natasha Katz, Skylight
Japhy Weideman, Airline Highway

AnAmericanInParis1_MatthewMurphyjpegBest Lighting Design of a Musical
Donald Holder, The King and I
Natasha Katz, An American in Paris
Ben Stanton, Fun Home
Japhy Weideman, The Visit

Best Direction of a Play
Stephen Daldry, Skylight
Marianne Elliott, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Scott Ellis, You Can’t Take It with You
Jeremy Herrin, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Moritz von Stuelpnagel, Hand to God

Best Direction of a Musical
Sam Gold, Fun Home
Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten!
John Rando, On the Town
Bartlett Sher, The King and I
Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

Best Choreography
Joshua Bergasse, On the Town
Christopher Gattelli, The King and I
Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten!
Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

Best Orchestrations
Christopher Austin, Don Sebesky, Bill Elliott, An American in Paris
John Clancy, Fun Home
Larry Hochman, Something Rotten!Rob Mathes, The Last Ship

Recipients of Awards and Honors in Non-competitive Categories

John Cameron Mitchell (JStone/Shutterstock)

John Cameron Mitchell (JStone/Shutterstock)

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre
Tommy Tune

Special Tony Award
John Cameron Mitchell

Regional Theatre Tony Award
Cleveland Play House, Cleveland, Ohio

Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award
Stephen Schwartz

Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre
Arnold Abramson
Adrian Bryan-Brown
Gene O’Donovan

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Review: An American in Paris

April 27th, 2015 Comments off

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"An American in Paris" (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

“An American in Paris” (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Boy meets girl. Actually, three boys meet girl in An American in Paris—the spectacular new musical now playing at the Palace Theatre. Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, the story follows Jerry (Robert Fairchild), a World War II vet and exuberant ex-pat who has stayed in Paris to pursue his passion of becoming an artist. He meets Henri Baurel (Max von Essen), a wealthy Parisian who dreams of becoming a nightclub singer; and Adam (Brandon Uranowtiz), a scrappy American composer also trying to find his way in the City of Light.

"An American in Paris" (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

“An American in Paris” (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Through a series of events, each man encounters Lise (Leanne Cope), a beautiful young ballet dancer, and the game is on to see which one of them will woo her heart. Meanwhile, Jerry is taken under the wing of art benefactor Milo Davenport (Jill Paice), who hopes that his brushstrokes go beyond the canvas. With just enough plot to keep things interesting, An American in Paris is an absolute visual feast from the moment the house lights dim.

Wheeldon, known as a ballet dancer and choreographer and more recently as artistic associate of the Royal Ballet, brings a new level of dance to the Broadway stage. Though the season is filled with somewhat creaky revivals of mid century musicals like On the Town and Gigi, An American in Paris is in a class by itself. Wheeldon draws inspiration from Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, and the film’s original star and choreographer Gene Kelly, yet the work feels entirely fresh and relevant. Given his credentials, audience members might expect no less, but what may surprise you is his nuanced direction of Craig Lucas’s book, which delicately treads on themes like the after-effects of the German invasion on post-war France, homosexuality, and class systems.

"An American in Paris" (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

“An American in Paris” (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Bob Crowley’s sets and costumes, along with lighting by Natasha Katz and projection design by 59 Productions, deliver a Technicolor design that seamlessly transforms from the streets of Paris to a myriad of locations. Skylines swoop in at dramatic angles, mirrors dervishly whirl in every direction, and forced perspectives offer whimsical backdrops for the eye to wander. The second act ballet (which served as inspiration for the original 1951 film) offers visual references—at least to this reviewer—of French geometric abstract painters like Auguste Herbin and Robert Delaunay and you may, for a moment, feel like you’ve been transported to MoMA.

"An American in Paris" (photo: Angela Sterling via The Broadway Blog.)

“An American in Paris” (photo: Angela Sterling via The Broadway Blog.)

Wheeldon asks the impossible of his cast: to deliver triple-threat performances that transcend dancing, singing and acting, and they deliver in spades. As Jerry, Fairchild is perhaps more boyish the Gene Kelly’s celluloid performance, but nobody can deny his radiant smile, pleasing tenor voice, and effortless yet athletic dancing. Leanne Cope plays the coy ingénue, but catch her raised eyebrow or flicked foot (en pointe, no less) and it’s clear that she delivers depth of character and just a hint of naughty. The supporting cast and ensemble each have their shining moments, including von Essen and Uranowitz’s surprising tap capabilities in “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” as well as Paice’s haunting rendition of “But Not For Me.” With music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, the cast is playing in the sandbox of some of best music from the American Songbook ever written.

Chassé your way to An American in Paris. It is the kind of show that makes people dream of an evening at the theater. Fortunately, this dream is a reality.

An American in Paris
Palace Theatre
1564 Broadway
Open-ended run

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at roodeloo

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John Cameron Mitchell to Receive Special Tony Award

April 27th, 2015 Comments off
John Cameron Mitchell (JStone/Shutterstock)

John Cameron Mitchell (JStone/Shutterstock)

Calling all Hedwig fans! The Tony Awards Administration Committee has announced that John Cameron Mitchell will receive the 2015 Special Tony Award.

“John’s return to Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one for the history books. He not only wrote and co-created the role with Stephen Trask – before directing and starring in the film – but returned to Broadway to star as Hedwig this season after a series of rave performances by Neil Patrick Harris, Andrew Rannells and Michael C. Hall. This is a remarkable undertaking, and we are honored to recognize his outstanding success with this honor,” Heather Hitchens, President of the American Theatre Wing, and Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director of The Broadway League, said.

John Cameron Mitchell’s New York stage appearances included Broadway’s Big River, and the original casts of The Secret Garden (Drama Desk nomination) and Six Degrees of Separation. Off-Broadway: Larry Kramer’s The Destiny of Me (Obie Award and Drama Desk nom.) and Michael John LaChiusa’s Hello Again (Drama Desk nom.). He adapted and directed Tennessee Williams’ Kingdom of Earth starring Cynthia Nixon and Peter Sarsgaard and starred in and wrote the book for the 1998 Off-Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (directed by Peter Askin) for which he won an Obie Award along with co-creator/songwriter Stephen Trask.

MV5BMjE1NTIxNzQ5NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMDMzODA5._V1._CR0,1,265,404__SX1189_SY612_The film adaptation (2001) of Hedwig and the Angry Inch won him Best Director at Sundance and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. He directed Shortbus (2006) and Rabbit Hole (2011) adapted from David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play and starring Nicole Kidman in an Oscar-nominated performance. He recently appeared in HBO’s Girls and is preparing to direct a film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s punk-era story How to Talk to Girls at Parties starring Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman.

Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker will announce the 2015 Tony Award Nominations LIVE on Tuesday, April 28 from the Paramount Hotel’s Diamond Horseshoe in New York City. The Tony Award Nominations can be viewed LIVE on “CBS This Morning” and in their entirety, at www.TonyAwards.com.

The 2015 Tony Awards will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, on Sunday, June 7th, 2015 on the CBS, live from the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The Tony Awards, which honors theater professionals for distinguished achievement on Broadway, has been broadcast on CBS since 1978. The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.

A limited number of tickets to the 2015 Tony Awards will be made available to the general public. Tickets will be available at www.TonyAwards.com starting on April 28, 2015.

Review: The Belle of Belfast at Irish Repertory Theatre

April 24th, 2015 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

 Kate Lydic and Hamish Allan-Headley in "The Belle of Belfast" (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Kate Lydic and Hamish Allan-Headley in “The Belle of Belfast” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The Belle of Belfast, a little firebomb of a play, is now detonating eight times weekly at the Irish Repertory Theatre in one of the best acted productions I’ve seen at this venerable Off Broadway venue. Set in 1985 during “the troubles” in Belfast, where a production would probably cause protests, it sounds to these non-Irish ears—especially in the company’s finely honed accents—about as Irish as anything by Martin McDonagh; this despite playwright Nate Rufus Edelman (whose program bio says he’s “a proud member of the Choctaw nation) being from Los Angeles, where the play premiered at Ensemble Studio Theatre-LA in 2012. Edelman did study, however, at Trinity College Dublin, where—supplemented by visits to Belfast itself—he picked up enough of Belfast’s lingo and politics from his Belfastian flat-mate to convincingly pen this Irish hot potato.

Kate Lydic and Arielle Hoffman in "The Belle of Belfast" (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Kate Lydic and Arielle Hoffman in “The Belle of Belfast” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

At the heart of the 85-minute, one-act play is the simmering relationship between a hotheaded redhead, 17-year-old Anne Molloy (Kate Lydic), and Ben Reilly (Hamish Allan-Headley), a devout, sincere, and all-too human, 35-year-old priest. The seething Anne, who “has a mouth on her that would make a Dublin junkie blush,” as the alcoholic priest, Father Behan (Billy Meleady, who created the role in L.A.), describes her, was orphaned as a child when her parents were accidentally killed in an IRA bombing aimed at Protestants, seven of whom also died. Anne—infuriated and depressed by the senseless conflict—has become a boundary-testing teen with no qualms about using bad language in the confessional (where “feck” passes, but its close cousin is verboten) or seducing Ben, who immediately suffers a crisis of faith. Their liaison serves as a premise on which to explore other issues as well, including the meaninglessness of Northern Ireland’s political violence and its clergy’s skewed perspectives.

Of particular interest is the priests’ private earthiness, not merely because Behan is a drunk and Reilly a heavy smoker. These priests even hesitantly share the confidences they’ve heard in the confessional. Behan is particularly memorable, especially as realized in Billy Meleady’s electrically authentic performance. He represents the deep Northern Irish Catholic hatred of Protestants, which makes Anne’s parents heroes (“collateral damage” he calls them) just because they died in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even Ben admits to feeling proud when Anne’s parents became martyrs, but this was before Anne helped him have a change of heart.

Reilly and Behan take as much pride in being patriots as priests, seeking a united Catholic Ireland at any cost. When two Catholic teens become bombing victims, all the unsympathetic Behan can offer is: “He was a poof and she was a slutty bitch.” He wishes he could be sent away from Belfast’s dreariness to the seaside town of Donegal; why not, since another priest was transferred there as punishment for molesting boys (somewhat anachronistically, considering that priestly pedophilia was not yet a widely exposed issue)? Yet, for all his bonhomie, after taking a bribe to hear his friend’s confession, he erupts in unbridled, compassionless fury when he learns of Ben’s mortal sin.

Hamish Allan-Headley and Billy Meleady in "The Belle of Belfast" (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Hamish Allan-Headley and Billy Meleady in “The Belle of Belfast” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The Belle of Belfast is laced with humor. Partly, this stems from the misguided confession of Anne’s caretaker, her slightly batty great aunt Emma (delectably handled by Patricia Conolly), who seeks weekly absolution for what she erroneously considers her sins, which more likely are those of others. Even serious scenes have laughs threaded through them, like those between Anne and her chubby, overeating schoolmate, Ciara (an excellent Arielle Hoffman), whose Catholic morals are shocked by what Anne divulges.

For all its punch, the play leans a bit on melodramatic contrivances, although to expose them would lead to spoilers. Still, the vigorously stageworthy dialogue, the heated issues broached, the colorful characterizations, and the uniformly three-dimensional acting satisfactorily cover the holes.

Lydic is TNT as the troubled, outspoken Anne, her fiery outspokenness nicely offset by the reserved suffering of Allan-Headley’s Reilly. All the performances are precisely calibrated under the incisive direction of Claudia Weill (who also directed its L.A. premiere), complemented by John McDermott’s split-stage, outdoor-indoor setting, Justin Townsend’s capable lighting, Terese Wadden’s appropriate costumes, and Jeff Larson’s projections. This is good theater. And that’s the fecking truth.

The Belle of Belfast
Irish Repertory Theatre
DR2 Theatre
103 East 15th Street
Through June 7

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

Review: The Visit

April 23rd, 2015 Comments off
Chita Rivera and the cast of "The Visit" (photo: Thom Kaine via The Broadway Blog.)

Chita Rivera and the cast of “The Visit” (photo: Thom Kaine via The Broadway Blog.)

Death becomes her. Or not.

Chita Rivera returns to the stage in Kander and Ebb’s The Visit, a dismally depressing one-act musical adapted from the Swiss play by Friedrich Dürrenmattthat that tells the story of Claire Zachanassian, a wealthy self-proclaimed whore who returns to her destitute hometown to seek revenge on the man who broke her heart.

Chita Rivera in "The Visit" (photo: Thom Kaine via The Broadway Blog.)

Chita Rivera in “The Visit” (photo: Thom Kaine via The Broadway Blog.)

Originally presented at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 2001, the show has seen several incarnations, the most recent being this version that ran at Williamstown Theatre Festival last summer, co-starring Roger Rees as Anton Schell, the ex-lover in question. Rees reprises his role opposite Rivera, and despite compelling performances from both; this is a show that should be laid to rest.

The Visit delivers some great theatrics: a crisp performance by Rivera, who sweeps into the action with an entourage of two white-faced eunuchs and her butler; Rees and family, which includes an interesting turn by Mary Beth Peil as his disenchanted wife Matilde; and an ensemble of Broadway regulars such as Jason Danieley and Elena Shaddow who invest full-throttle in a plot that goes nowhere.

They all tell the non-story of a bankrupt village faced with the decision to sacrifice one of their own to reap the benefits of Zachanassian’s spiteful revenge, for she has offered to bail out the town if Anton sacrifices his life. Various perspectives are revealed in stagnant flashbacks and present-day moral dilemmas—all set against an appropriately looming set designed by Scott Pask.

Kander and Ebb’s body of work, which dates back to 1965’s Flora the Red Menace starring Liza Minnelli and includes notable titles including Chicago and Kiss of the Spider Woman (also starring Chita Rivera) is often known for its accessibility and melodic structure. The Visit is more like a chamber piece, offering complex choral arrangements and rarely a string of notes that the audience can hold onto. While deftly executed, these aren’t show tunes you’ll be humming on your way to Sardi’s afterwards.

The cast of "The Visit" (photo: Thom Kaine via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of “The Visit” (photo: Thom Kaine via The Broadway Blog.)

Directed with what has now become his signature stamp of ensemble shuffling, John Doyle maneuvers and manipulates the players with the help of choreographer Graciela Daniele. I’m not sure who decided that a coffin should be the one major prop, but after about 90 minutes of gloom and doom one wishes that the whole show could be sealed up and buried six feet under.

It’s a shame that this might be Rivera’s final major swan song to Broadway. Theatergoers will hopefully be lucky enough to have her visit the stage once again.

The Visit
Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45th Street
Open-ended run

What the other critics are saying:

“Kander just can’t help himself. Even in what may well be his darkest work, he writes beautiful romantic melodies. So there are some lovely moments in this show — specifically, those moments when love and forgiveness seem to stand a chance. Chita and Rees are captivating when they find themselves “In the Forest Again,” where they once made love. And Chita is breathtaking in “Love and Love Alone,” the gorgeous ballad for the pas de deux in which she dances with her own younger self. But taken in the context of the material, love and forgiveness don’t really stand a chance in the heart of a vengeful woman.” Variety

“A second-tier Kander and Ebb score is better than a lot of musical craftsmen’s best, which makes The Visit a welcome curiosity, even it’s sure to be a commercial challenge. Finally reaching Broadway after almost 15 years of false starts, the show arrives in a bewitchingly designed production from director John Doyle that magnifies its alluring qualities and masks some of its imperfections. It’s an arresting vehicle for the indomitable Chita Rivera, who has stuck with the project throughout its troubled history, and she remains a uniquely steely stage presence at 82 — graceful, dignified and commanding.” The Hollywood Reporter

The Visit isn’t for everyone. But Mr. Kander and his late, lamented partner never wrote a finer score, and if you find (as Somerset Maugham put it) that there isn’t much kick in the milk of human kindness, then you’ll thrill to their cruel tale of what men who dare to call themselves decent will do to one another if the price is right.” The Wall Street Journal

Lypsinka Returns This Summer!

April 21st, 2015 Comments off

Lypsinka.1

Guess who’s back? Lypsinka (a.k.a. John Epperson) returns to Off Broadway this summer with his hit show, Lypsinka! The Boxed Set. 

Click for details. 

Categories: The Buzz, Way Off Broadway Tags:

2015 Drama League Award Nominations

April 21st, 2015 Comments off

First awarded in 1922 and formalized in 1935, The Drama League Awards are the oldest theatrical honors in America. They are the only major theatergoer awards chosen by audience members — specifically, by the thousands of Drama League members nationwide who attend Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.

OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION OF A BROADWAY OR OFF-BROADWAY PLAY

The Audience
By Peter Morgan
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

Alex Sharp (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Alex Sharp (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Between Riverside and Crazy
By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Atlantic Theater Company/Second Stage Theatre

Bootycandy
By Robert O’Hara
Directed by Robert O’Hara
Playwrights Horizons

Constellations
By Nick Payne
Directed by Michael Longhurst
Manhattan Theatre Club/The Royal Court Theatre

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Simon Stephens, based on the novel by Mark Haddon
Directed by Marianne Elliott
Ethel Barrymore Theatre

Steven Boyer in "Hand to God" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Steven Boyer in “Hand to God” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Hand to God
By Robert Askins
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Booth Theatre

An Octoroon
By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by Sarah Benson
Soho Rep/Theatre for a New Audience

Punk Rock
By Simon Stephens
Directed by Trip Cullman
MCC Theater

Scenes from a Marriage
By Ingmar Bergman
Adapted by Emily Mann
Directed by Ivo van Hove+
New York Theatre Workshop

Wolf Hall, Parts One & Two
By Hilary Mantel, Adapted by Mike Poulton
Directed by Jeremy Herrin
Winter Garden Theatre

OUTSTANDING REVIVAL OF A BROADWAY OR OFF-BROADWAY PLAY

Big Love
By Charles Mee
Directed by Tina Landau
Signature Theatre Company

The Elephant Man
By Bernard Pomerance
Directed by Scott Ellis
Booth Theatre

Elisabeth Moss in "The Heidi Chronicles" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Elisabeth Moss in “The Heidi Chronicles” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The Heidi Chronicles
By Wendy Wasserstein
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Music Box Theatre

The Iceman Cometh
By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Robert Falls
Brooklyn Academy of Music

It’s Only a Play
By Terrence McNally
Directed by Jack O’Brien
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

Skylight
By David Hare
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Golden Theatre 

Tamburlaine, Parts I and II
By Christopher Marlowe
Edited and Directed by Michael Boyd
Theatre for a New Audience

This Is Our Youth
By Kenneth Lonergan
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Cort Theatre

You Can’t Take It with You
By Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
Directed by Scott Ellis
Longacre Theatre 

OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION OF A BROADWAY OR OFF-BROADWAY MUSICAL

An American in Paris
Music and Lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, Book by Craig Lucas
Directed by Christopher Wheeldon
Palace Theatre

(L-R) Sawyer Nunes, Alex Dreier, Laura Michelle Kelly, Aidan Gemme, Matthew Morrison, Christopher Paul Richards (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

(L-R) Sawyer Nunes, Alex Dreier, Laura Michelle Kelly, Aidan Gemme, Matthew Morrison, Christopher Paul Richards (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Finding Neverland
Book by James Graham, Music and Lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot KennedyDirected by Diane Paulus
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre 

Fun Home
Music by Jeanine Tesori, Book and Lyrics by Lisa Kron
Directed by Sam Gold
Circle in the Square Theatre 

Ghost Quartet
Music, Lyrics, and Text by Dave Malloy
Directed by Annie Tippe
The McKittrick Hotel

Hamilton
Book, Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Directed by Thomas Kail
The Public Theater

It Shoulda Been You
Book and Lyrics by Brian Hargrove, Music and Concept by Barbara Anselmi
Directed by David Hyde Pierce
Brooks Atkinson Theatre

Something Rotten!
Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
Directed by Casey Nicholaw
St. James Theatre

The Visit
Book by Terrence McNally, Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Directed by John Doyle
Lyceum Theatre 

OUTSTANDING REVIVAL OF A BROADWAY OR OFF-BROADWAY MUSICAL

Allegro
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by John Doyle
Classic Stage Company

Into the Woods
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by James Lapine
Directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld
Roundabout Theatre Company

The King and I
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Lincoln Center Theatre

OntheTownOn The Town
Music by Leonard Bernstein, Book and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Directed by John Rando
Lyric Theatre 

On The Twentieth Century
Book and Lyrics by Better Comden and Adolph Green, Music by Cy Coleman
Directed by Scott Ellis
Roundabout Theatre Company

Read more…

Categories: The Buzz Tags:

Review: Living on Love

April 20th, 2015 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

(photo: Andrew Eccles via The Broadway Blog.)

(photo: Andrew Eccles via The Broadway Blog.)

Living on Love, the old-fashioned screwball farce in which opera star Renée Fleming is making her delightful Broadway debut, may have the musty fragrance of a pre-owned vehicle, but with Fleming at the wheel it manages, despite hitting a few potholes, to arrive at its destination before the transmission expires. Playwright Joe DiPietro has given it a new paint job, added some up-to-date accessories, and even retrofitted its 1980s chassis to resemble a 1950s model.

The play, which debuted last year at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, is an adaptation of Peccadillo, a 1985 flop by the late Garson Kanin, which, despite a cast including Christopher Plummer, Glynis Johns, and Kelly McGillis, died aborning in Fort Lauderdale. The plot remains more or less the same, although the time has been moved to 1957, with mostly new dialogue and references, such as changing the leading man’s jealousy of Zubin Mehta to Leonard Bernstein.

Renée Fleming and Douglas Sills in "Living On Love" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Renée Fleming and Douglas Sills in “Living On Love” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

That lead is Vito De Angelis (Douglas Sills), a famous, dashing, white-haired, chain-smoking, egomaniacal, skirt-chasing conductor of a certain age. Vito’s glamorous, Pomeranian-carrying wife, Raquel De Angelis (Fleming), is a renowned opera star, also of a certain age and, like Vito, unwilling to admit it. He’s Il Maestro, and she’s La Diva. (In Peccadillo, Raquel has retired, so singing isn’t needed; in Living on Love, big pipes are essential, thus Ms. Fleming’s presence.)

Vito, who has the kind of flamboyant Italian accent you hear only on stage, has hired the good-looking young writer Robert Samson (Jerry O’Connell) to ghostwrite his tell-all autobiography, for which he’s received a $50,000 advance from Little, Brown. (In Vito’s broken English, Robert is his “spooky helper.” Mama mia!) Vito thinks his book, moving at snail’s pace because of his uncooperativeness, should exploit his sexual conquests, but the idealistic Jerry, a struggling writer, disagrees; one of the play’s flat tires is the title of Jerry’s unpublished opus, The Great American Novel. Nonetheless, he becomes the seventh ghostwriter Vito fires. This brings Iris Peabody (Anna Chlumsky), a cute, low-ranking editor, to the maestro’s penthouse to demand the advance’s return; no one else has the guts to confront him. Iris (which Vito insists on pronouncing “Irish”—again, Mama mia!) is angling for a promotion.

Blake Hammon (l) and Scott Robertson (r) in "Living On Love" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Blake Hammon (l) and Scott Robertson (r) in “Living On Love” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

La Diva, a spendthrift who has blown the advance, returns from a failed European tour, reducing her to having to play “the provinces,” such as Fort Lauderdale (take that!). She decides to cash in on her own life story by hiring Jerry to ghostwrite it. Vito’s attempted seduction of Iris (to the strains of “Bolero”) is matched by Raquel’s of Jerry (for which she dresses as Mimi in La Bohéme).

Eventually, all these complications are ironed out, supplemented by an amusing romantic resolution involving Vito and Raquel’s plump, aging Tweedledee and Tweedledum-like servants, the perfectly cast Eric (Scott Robertson) and Bruce (Blake Hammond). During the scene shifts these gents rearrange the furniture with choreographic precision, singing lively operatic passages and even breaking into “Making Whoopie.”

Finally, since we’ve heard several times of how a boy violinist kept playing “Always” when Vito first met Raquel in Vienna, a cascade of sentimentality brings the curtain down as snowflakes fall (snow globes play an important part in their relationship) and Il Maestro and La Diva embrace while singing (beautifully) Berlin’s affectionate ballad.

Read more…