Archive for April, 2017

The Russians Are Coming: ‘Anastasia’

April 29th, 2017 No comments
Christy Altomare in 'Anastasia.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Christy Altomare in ‘Anastasia.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

A young woman in search of her past. A country in the midst of a revolution. Two schemers looking to escape the violence of a new Communist regime. These grand scenarios have the making for an opulent musical filled with drama, intrigue and love. Unfortunately, Anastasia, which opened last week on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre, is as hollow as a set of Russian nesting dolls.

The story of Anastasia Romanov, daughter of Nicholas II, the last Russian czar, has captivated the world since the family’s mysterious assassination in 1918. For years it was rumored that Anastasia survived (though ultimately proven false through DNA testing in 2007) and it is this glimmer of hope that provides inspiration for the musical, which is based on the 1997 animated film.

With a book by Terrence McNally and score by Stephen Flaherty (book) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), one would hope that Anastasia reached the epic proportions of its source material. But under the anachronistic and often over-stylized direction of Darko Tresnjak, her journey is about as interesting as a bowl of beet borscht.

'Anastasia' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Anastasia’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

As Anya, who eventually reclaims her identity as the missing aristocrat, Christy Altomare does her best to carry the production, but the weight of its inadequacies is too heavy for her slight frame. Altomare is full-throttle in her commitment to discovering Anya’s past, but McNally’s book is obligatorily laden with flashing memories.

Anya’s cohorts, Vlad (John Bolton) and Dmitry (Derek Klena) unknowingly try to pass her off as the real deal to help them all cross the border to France, where they hope that the Dowager Empress (Mary Beth Peil), the last remaining Romanov, will accept Anya as Anastasia and bequeath her fortune. Peil brings an appropriate amount of gravitas, but Bolton is so schmaltzy you’d expect to see him in a Catskills revue, while Klena’s cadence sounds more California beach bum than Russian street urchin.

Of course, Anya needs an antagonist besides her own fleeting memories. Enter Gleb (Ramin Karimloo), a young(ish) Soviet official moving up the ranks of the new regime. Once receiving word that Anastasia may still be alive, Gleb intermittently tries to stop her passage to France and eventually shows up in Paris to finally put an end to the Romanov lineage. I think there might have been a typo in Karimloo’s script and he’s interpreted Gleb for glib. Delivering nothing more than a vacant stare and inexcusable aura of apathy, even Karimloo’s curtain call lacked energy.

John Bolton and Caroline O'Connor in 'Anastasia.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

John Bolton and Caroline O’Connor in ‘Anastasia.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

That can’t be said for Caroline O’Connor’s Countess Lily, the dowager’s lady-in-waiting. O’Connor injects Act II with a much-needed vodka shot and a terrific production number. “Land of Yesterday” is set in Paris’s Neva Club, where all the Russian ex-pats apparently hang out. Though O’Connor doesn’t offer a shred of Russian aristocracy, what she does deliver is a fantastically entertaining performance filled with terrific comic timing. She’s in an entirely different show, but under these circumstances, I’m okay with that.

Adding to the conundrum is the production’s creative team. Linda Cho has designed gorgeous period costumes, but they’re nearly impossible to appreciate amid the assaulting projections by Aaron Rhyne, which I assume are meant to give depth to Alexander Dodge’s set design. Instead, plan on bringing Dramamine to the theatre for the never-ending, fast-moving renderings that morph from royal estates and forested railways to cartography and the ghosts of Anya’s past. Someone, please send the memo: less is more.

In spite of my personal misgivings, the audience (stacked with screechy high school girls) went wild at the performance I saw. During her curtain call, Altomare seemed just as surprised at the overwhelming response. Or maybe it was the sleepwalking Karimloo that made her appear that much more appreciative.

Though I can’t predict Anastasia’s future, I have a feeling it will soon be another chapter in the fading past of the Romanov dynasty.

Broadhurst Theatre
235 West 44th Street, NYC
Open run.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.

Categories: To See or Not To See Tags:

Last Chance: ‘The Fantasticks’

April 28th, 2017 Comments off
Madison Claire Parks as The Girl and Andrew Polec as The Boy in 'The Fantasticks.'

Madison Claire Parks as The Girl and Andrew Polec as The Boy in ‘The Fantasticks.’

Try to remember… when The Fantasticks wasn’t playing Off-Broadway. The production opened in 1960 and has been a fixture for nearly 60 years. But catch it while you can. Producers announced that the long running musical will close on June 4, 2017. At the time of its closing the production will have played a total of 21,552 performances in New York City: 17,162 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse and 4390 performances at Jerry Orbach Theater 1627 Broadway.

A modern twist on Romeo and JulietThe Fantasticks (music by Harvey Schmidt, book, lyrics, and direction by Tom Jones) is the quintessential story of a boy and girl who fall in love and then quickly grow apart when they realize they want to experience the world.  What follows is a hilarious and heartwarming story appropriate for all ages. The score, which includes the hit songs “Try To Remember”, “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “They Were You”, is as timeless as the story itself.

During its original run at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village, The Fantasticks logged a record-breaking 17,162 performances. When the original production closed in 2002, news of the closing made the front page of The New York Times. In 2006, the revival opened at The Theater Center, directed by Tom Jones (author and lyricist). Variety calls the revival, “A close re-creation that happily replicates the original’s charms.” The Fantasticks continues to run at The Theater Center, making record-breaking history with each performance.

The play has become a true New York institution. For many people, seeing The Fantasticks when visiting New York is as important as seeing The Statue of Liberty or The Empire State Building. Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended the New Year’s Eve performance of the show before ringing in 2008 in Times Square. In 1992 The Fantasticks won The Tony Award for Excellence and remains the only Off-Broadway show ever to have won a Tony.

The cast of The Fantasticks features Bradley Dean as El Gallo (The Narrator), Emily Behny as Luisa (The Girl), Nathan Goodrich as The Boy (Matt), Dan Sharkey as The Boy’s Father (Hucklebee), Dale Hensley as The Girl’s Father (Bellomy), MacIntyre Dixon as The Old Actor (Henry), Michael Nostrand as The Man Who Dies (Mortimer) and Aaron Wright as The Mute. The production also features Scott Willis, John Thomas Waite, and Samantha Bruce.

The Fantasticks
The Jerry Orbach Theatre in the Snapple Theater Center
210 West 50th Street
Through June 4

Sentimental Journey: ‘Bandstand’ on Broadway

April 27th, 2017 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

'Bandstand' (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Bandstand’ (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

There’s a lot of heart and a considerable amount of talent off and onstage in Bandstand, a sincere, upbeat, but overly sudsy and clichéd musical that’s moved to Broadway after premiering in 2015 at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse as The Bandstand. A respectful, well-produced look at the social, psychological, and career difficulties faced by GIs returning from World War II, it invites comparison with other stage and screen treatments of similar problems, like 1946’s powerful film, The Best Years of Our Lives.

Knottiest of the show’s problems is the score by Richard Oberacker (music) and Rob Taylor, his collaborator on the book and lyrics. They deserve a chutzpah Tony for creating a show in which the central characters are musicians who play, not the actual big band swing of 1945, when the show is set, but pastiches.

The jukeboxes of 1945 played such unforgettables as “Sentimental Journey,” “Till the End of Time,” “Candy,” “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” and “There! I’ve Said It Again,” while bobby soxers swooned to greats like Peggy Lee, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, and Nat King Cole. When Bandstand specifically introduces a song it calls a “standard,” “First Steps First,” it’s tempting to call it faux-gettable.

'Bandstand' (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Bandstand’ (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

Bandstand is about Donny Novitsky (Corey Cott), a handsome, Italian-Polish singer-pianist-composer who comes home to Cleveland from fighting in the Pacific only to find himself unable to land a paying gig. A national radio talent contest for a band, whose prize will be to have their original song used in a movie, inspires him to assemble one made up entirely of veterans (James Nathan Hopkins, Geoff Packard, Brandon J. Ellis, Joe Carroll, and Alex Bender). The guys, of course, are all saddled with war-related conditions, ranging from alcoholism to memory troubles.

Donny, dubbing himself Donny Nova, overcomes the reluctance of the beautiful church soloist and Gold Star wife Julie Trojan (Laura Osnes) to serve as the band’s vocalist. Faithful to her late husband, Michael, Donny’s best buddy, Julie refuses to change her own name, despite its being juvenile joke bait.

As per the conventions of such plots, the band overcomes various obstacles—including Julie’s possible defection—and takes its sentimental journey to New York to compete in the radio show’s finals. At the last minute, though, a band member interested in the law notes a problem regarding the rights to their big song, for which Julie wrote the lyrics. Not to fear, the ever-resourceful Donny comes up with a resolution that, contrived and corny as it is, leads to Julie’s defiantly sung, ironically titled, 11:00 number, “Welcome Home.” Unsurprisingly, it got a standing O when I attended.

bandstand broadway While Bandstand never overcomes the impediment of its ersatz tunes, exciting director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton) keeps our eyes and ears glued to his inventive staging and period-inspired dance numbers. The show, with a cast of 27, and a pit orchestra of 11 supplementing the onstage players (making it hard to determine where some of what we’re hearing is coming from), is excellently performed; the character-musicians—percussion, trumpet, trombone, and bass—are highly polished and their music, if not its melodies, replicates the old-time sound.

Osnes (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella), lovely as ever, makes as much of Julia as could anyone. It’s disappointing, though, to hear her impressive pipes employed in a standard 2017 Broadway mode; it has nothing in common with the distinctive sound and manner used by girl bandstand singers of the day.

Corey Cott (Gigi)—looking a tad like a young Monty Clift, and tickling the ivories with finesse—likewise sounds more like a present-day Broadway star than a 40s crooner but he leaves a strong impression as the manically driven Donny, a role with plenty to chomp on. Beth Leavel as Julie’s levelheaded mom provides much of the show’s humor; she gets a warm response for her solo, the sensitively sung “Everything Happens.”

David Korins’s scenery, expertly lit by Jeff Croiter, has two contrasting styles: the first shows a shabby Cleveland nightclub, also used for other locales, including the battlefield; the second, more abstract, serves for later scenes, like those on a New York-bound train or at the radio station. Paloma King’s period costumes are inconsistent, some looking authentic enough, others, mainly the men’s, not so much.

Any show built around the musical tastes of World War II is going to be swathed in nostalgia; audience members who grew up then may not be able to ignore their memories in favor of a less-satisfying substitute. While not, like Bandstand, specifically about music making, Grease is an example of a show able to create songs from a particular era that sounded like (and satirized) its inspirations, making new hits as it did so. For this child of the early 40s, Bandstand is no Grease.

Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 W. 45th St., NYC
Open run

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 (





The Great Imposter: ‘Six Degrees of Separation’

April 26th, 2017 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

Allison Janney and Corey Hawkins in 'Six Degrees of Separation.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Allison Janney and Corey Hawkins in ‘Six Degrees of Separation.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

“There are two sides to every story,” says a character in John Guare’s prize-winning dramedy, Six Degrees of Separation, now getting its first Broadway revival since its 1990 Lincoln Center premiere (first at the Newhouse, then at the Beaumont). There are also two sides—one standing for chaos, one for control—to the Kandinsky painting slowly rotating as it hangs over the red-swathed, sparingly furnished apartment (designed by Mark Wendland and exquisitely lit by Ben Stanton), in which most of the play transpires. And there are certainly two sides, if not more, to this play, based on an actual rip-off that happened to friends of the playwright in 1983, and to a number of other suckers, some notables among them.

Have you ever been conned by someone with a reasonably respectable appearance asking you for assistance because, let’s say, they’ve run out of gas and desperately need a few dollars to get home? If so, think about the moxie it would take to stab yourself enough to bloody your shirt before barging into the Fifth Avenue aerie of a wealthy couple, claiming to have been mugged in Central Park, to be the Harvard friend of their children, and, best of all, to be the son of Sidney Poitier, who’s in town to direct, of all things, a movie version of Cats.

That, indeed, is what “Paul Poitier” (Corey Hawkins), as he calls himself, does when he breathlessly enters the digs of art dealer Flan Kittredge (John Benjamin Hickey), and his chic wife, Ouisa (Allison Janney), while they’re discussing the sale of a Cézanne with a rich South African businessman named Geoffrey (Tony Carlin).

'Six Degrees of Separation' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Six Degrees of Separation’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The name-dropping Paul, who’s been studying up on the Kittredge family (and others) with a gay lover (Chris Perfetti), and whose talents include gourmet cooking, not only gains everyone’s sympathy (Geoffrey gets inspired to create an African-American film festival at home), he’s even given the Kittredge’s son’s bedroom to sleep in. But when Paul is discovered having sex there with a hustler (James Cusati-Moyer), his fast-talking skills kick into high gear.

Paul’s trickery isn’t finished, though, and he soon pulls off another outlandish ploy with Rick (Peter Mark Kendall) and Elizabeth (Sarah Mezzanotte), an innocent young couple from Utah he meets in Central Park. This one ends up tragically. Despite being fully informed of Paul’s transgressions, Ouisa reaches out to make that true connection with him that’s been missing from her life. It’s too late, however, and all she has left is what she least wanted, an anecdote to endlessly recall.

Corey Hawkins in 'Six Degrees of Separation.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Corey Hawkins in ‘Six Degrees of Separation.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Trip Cullman’s direction charges the play with the high-energy antics and rapid pace of drawing room farce, much of it too broad for this viewer’s tastes; carefully timed physical business is abundant, like a madcap chase involving the hustler, whose total nudity is a bad choice in search of a cheap laugh. But, as per the script, the tone changes awkwardly with the Rick and Elizabeth sequence, making us unsure about when and when not to laugh.

Guare has a great time satirizing the fatuousness and guilt of the upper-class, liberal-leaning, white couple (and their friends) who fall for this well-dressed, seemingly highly educated, young black man’s carefully rehearsed palaver. Part of the fun comes from their excitement about the possibility of being in Cats, a show biz reference Guare squeezes for the kind of kneejerk reaction too many playwrights get from mentioning Queens or New Jersey.

Six Degrees of Separation takes its name from a theory recalled by Ouisa as she ponders how Paul found her and Flan; thanks to the play (and its film version), this notion, which has infiltrated everyone’s consciousness (as Kevin Bacon can attest), insists we’re all separated from even the most remote individuals, like a “Tiera del Fuegan,” by a chain of only six people; of course, Ouisa notes, “you need to find the right people to make the connection.”

Leading the large, highly capable ensemble is the always excellent Allison Janney. Wearing a stylishly coiffed blond wig, with her tall, slender figure dressed to elegant perfection by Clint Ramos, she brings her star radiance to Ouisa, making her both wonderfully funny and human enough for us to accept the woman’s desperate need to believe in Paul. Hickey is generally amusing as the eager art dealer, his dubious dealings not that far removed, morally, from Paul’s. And Hawkins is quite plausible as the charming but mentally troubled Paul, whose imposture could likely scam an unsuspecting audience into buying his b.s.

David Hampton, on whom Paul is based, died at 39 of AIDS in 2003. Six Degrees captures his essence but it’s not a biodrama. However, a play about his life, including his litigious response to Guare’s play, might provide another side of the story.

Six Degrees of Separation
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 W. 47th St., NYC
Through July 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 (








Sweets for the Sweet: ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’

April 25th, 2017 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

As we squeezed our way through all the Oompa Loompas, I mean small children, clogging the arteries, I mean aisles, of the Lunt-Fontanne after eating, I mean seeing, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the first thing my granddaughter wanted was to tell about all the differences there were between this new Broadway musical and its two movie versions. The next thing she wanted was a chocolate bar (six bucks a pop at the concession stands.)

My granddaughter, by the way, is 23. While she admits she’s never read Roald Dahl’s popular 1964 children’s novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, she’s seen the 1971 movie (Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) starring Gene Wilder and the 2005 remake, using the book’s title and starring Johnny Depp, enough times to be a Wonka wonk. Considering the sugar rush palpitations of the young ones packing the theatre, she has plenty of company.

Ryan Sell in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Ryan Sell in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

This is a revised production of the long-running show—book by David Greig, lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray), and music by Shaiman, plus four newly added Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley songs from the 1971 movie—that recently closed in London.

Two-time Tony winner Christian Borle is the oddball, top-hatted, cane-carrying, cavity-inducing factory owner. Three kids alternate as the eponymous hero, 10-year-old Charlie Bucket (Ryan Sell, whom I saw; Ryan Foust, and Jack Ryan Flynn). Three-time Tony winner Jack O’Brien has taken over the direction from Sam Mendes, Jacques Bergasse choreographs in place of Peter Darling, but Mark Thompson, who did the original sets and costumes, is responsible for the new designs.

Greig’s updated book, which sticks to the familiar plot, is sprinkled with contemporary gag references (guns, North Korea, politics, celebrity, social media) aimed for adults and surely soaring over toddlers’ heads. Nonetheless, the youngsters at the preview I attended were rapt throughout. Although not a fan of Dahl’s high-calorie story even I found some of it satisfying and delicious.

While no show could compete with Hollywood’s special effects, there’s plenty of cleverness displayed in the gimmicky scenery (reportedly less elaborate than London’s) and ingenious staging. The child-unfriendly ways that punish the plot’s entitled brats are a hoot, and even queasy stomachs will likely ingest such comic images as people bursting into purple goop or dismembered by squirrels. On the up side, maybe some snot-nosed kids will learn the lessons of overreaching.

Shaiman and Wittman’s modestly effective score is sprightly and entertaining, although it sure helps to have it supplemented by familiar tunes from the movie, like the not-for-diabetics “The Candy Man” and the balladic “Pure Imagination.” Both are well sung by Borle, who has a ball pulling out all the stops as the madcap chocolatier despite pushing too hard when the show begins to lag.

For the biggest laughs, you have to wait for the singing and dancing Oompa Loompas to appear. Unlike the dwarfs in the first movie and the single actor, Deep Roy, multiplied up to 165 times, in the second, Broadway offers a chorus of short, white puppets (wonderfully imagined by Basil Twist) attached to black-garbed singer-dancers whose own bright faces shine under flame-red wigs. Large heads on little bodies is an old trick (remember the “Triplets” number in The Bandwagon?) but it’s still very funny when well deployed.

Christian Borle in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Christian Borle in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Fans should expect significant character revisions. Perhaps most notable are the obnoxious kids (played by adults) who win the Gold Ticket that allows them a guided tour of Willie’s reopened factory. The one good kid, Charlie Bucket, remains the poverty-stricken, selfless boy living in a dilapidated shanty with his laundress mom (Emily Padgett), depicted as a widow, and four decrepit grandparents (Kristy Cates, Madeline Doherty, Paul Slade Smith, and John Rubinstein), tucked into a single bed. Rubinstein’s lovably gruff Grandpa Joe makes a charming chaperone for Charlie.

Glutton Augustus Gloop (F. Michael Hayne), still a fat German boy, is now a yodeling Bavarian, with sausages coming out of his everywhere, while Veruka Salt (Emma Pfaeffle) is altered from a snooty British girl to a Russian ballerina in a pink tutu, with her father (Ben Crawford) a fur-collared oligarch. The bubble gum-chewing Violet (Trista Dollison) has been changed to a chubby, African-American, hip-hopper and YouTube sensation, the “Queen of Pop,” managed by a cool, shades-wearing, Hollywood dad (Alan H. Green). And Mike Teavee (Michael Wartella) has given up his cowboy hat and cap pistol to become a bling-wearing, computer hacking, social media whiz, while his mother (Jackie Hoffman) tipples homemade booze. These mean kids and the Oompa Loompas literally steal the show.

For all its occasional adult-oriented wisecracks, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, like the recent Matilda, another Dahl-based musical, is grand-scale children’s theatre. Mature audiences will enjoy it only so long as the kids do, which, artistic stumbles or not, is all that counts. Judging by the response when I attended, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory makes the world taste good.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
204 West 46th Street, NYC
Open run

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 (





Benefit Reading: Keri Russell in ‘An American Daughter’

April 24th, 2017 Comments off
KeriRussell (Photo: Tinseltown/Shutterstock.com_

KeriRussell (Photo: Tinseltown/Shutterstock.com_

Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winner Wendy Wasserstein’s prescient play An American Daughter returns to New York on May 8, 2017 at 7 p.m. for a one-night-only benefit reading at the Tony Kiser Theatre (305 West 43rd Street) directed by Emmy, Golden Globe, and Academy Award winner Christine Lahti.

All proceeds will benefit She Should Run, a nonprofit organization “working to create a culture that inspires women and girls to aspire towards public leadership.” Tickets are available now.

“The reading of An American Daughter is an exciting opportunity for She Should Run to join forces with the Indigo Theatre Project as they elevate the story of one woman’s political journey,” said Erin Loos Cutraro, Co-Founder & CEO of She Should Run. “We are truly grateful for the support of our mission to encourage and inspire more women and girls to consider public office.”

The reading will star Golden Globe winner Keri Russell as “Dr. Lyssa Hughes” with Emmy Award nominee Hugh Dancy as “Walter Abrahmson”, two-time Tony Award nominee Jonathan Groff as “Morrow McCarthy”, four-time Tony Award nominee Victor Garber as “Senator Alan Hughes,” Tony Award winner Julie White as “Charlotte ‘Chubby’ Hughes,” Emmy Award nominee Zoe Kazan as “Quincy Quince”, Tony Award nominee Raúl Esparza as “Timber Tucker” and Obie Award winner Quincy Tyler Bernstine as “Judith B. Kaufman.”  Additional casting will be announced shortly.

A prophetic reflection of the modern political era, Wendy Wasserstein’s An American Daughter follows Lyssa Dent Hughes (Keri Russell), an accomplished doctor and the President’s newly-named nominee for Surgeon General. While her confirmation at first seems inevitable, Lyssa is stunned when the vetting of her past leads to a scandal that threatens to derail her future.

The evening is produced in arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc. by The Indigo Theatre Project (Nick Gereffi, Artistic Director; Rachel Sussman, Executive Producer), a theater company that strives to unite passion with purpose by producing high-profile readings to benefit thematically relevant charitable organizations.

For more information, visit


A Kiss is Still a Kiss: ‘Indecent’

April 22nd, 2017 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

The cast and musicians of 'Indecent.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast and musicians of ‘Indecent.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

As I looked around during the standing ovation greeting Paula Vogel’s Indecent, now on Broadway after its successful run Off-Broadway last season, a few people were struggling both to applaud and wipe their eyes. While I can understand the latter reaction, my own, both now and when I saw it last year, was confined to enthusiastic clapping.

A lot—much of it entertaining as well as informative—has been packed into Indecent’s intermissionless hour and 45 minutes. Many important themes are covered, including censorship, immigration, anti-Semitism, intrareligious disagreement, the Holocaust, homophobia, and others. Sometimes it’s hard to shake the feeling of being taught a lesson, not the best method for stirring an audience’s emotions.

Indecent was inspired by Polish writer Sholem Asch’s (1880-1957) Yiddish melodrama, God of Vengeance (Gut fun Nekome), published in 1907. It was incendiary for its time, a play about a Jewish brothel-keeper who seeks his salvation through the purity of his daughter, Rifkele; he is, however, punished by the god of vengeance (or life itself) by having Rifkele become the lesbian lover of one of his prostitutes, Manke, and then a prostitute herself. Cue the Torah throwing!

(l-r) Max Gordon Moore and Richard Topol in 'Indecent.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

(l-r) Max Gordon Moore and Richard Topol in ‘Indecent.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The women’s controversial love scene in the rain, replete with a groundbreaking, onstage kiss, had a profound effect on Vogel, whose program note says that she’s never read a more beautiful scene between two women, “one that accorded their love the pure desire of Romeo and Juliet on the balcony.” In Indecent the scene, around which the play keeps circling, is eventually performed with a splashy deluge.

Although denounced by Jewish leaders, God of Vengeance eventually received successful European stagings starring the renowned Austrian actor Rudolph Schildkraut, for whom Asch tailored the role. After Schildkraut immigrated to New York he acted it there without incident in German and Yiddish, the latter at the Irving Place Theatre in 1921 (details omitted from the program’s otherwise informative timeline).

An English production at the Provincetown Playhouse in 1922 led to a move to Broadway’s Apollo Theatre in 1923, where, even though it removed the lesbianism, it was eaten by the lion of censorship, with the entire cast forced to spend the night in jail. The same plague would soon threaten many other sexually provocative plays, including those of Eugene O’Neill. Interestingly, O’Neill himself (Max Gordon Moore) is a character in Indecent.

Vogel is credited with having written Indecent but also as having ”created” it in collaboration with director Rebecca Taichman, the circumstances being described in the playwright’s program note. Their play eventually premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse before moving to the Yale Rep and then Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre, whose cast is intact at the Cort.

The cast of 'Indecent.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Indecent.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Using a fictional stage manager named Lemml (poignantly acted by Richard Topol) to string many of its incidents together, Indecent is an episodic combination of biodrama and docudrama focusing on God of Vengeance’s history and Asch’s life into the early 1950s. Some of its material seems extraneous, like the Holocaust sequence revolving around a wartime production by starving actors in a Lodz ghetto attic, material that expands the play’s concerns with anti-Semitism. Still, like an earlier cabaret scene, it’s so well done its performance more than justifies its inclusion.

Taichman’s highly imaginative staging, using dance, music, and Brechtian storytelling techniques, is superb, and the play’s panoramic narrative is absorbing. There are numerous innovative moments but having the dust pour from the actors’ sleeves at select moments (evoking the notion of “ashes to ashes”) is as memorable as theatrical images get.

Three musicians (Lisa Gutkin, Aaron Halva, and Matt Darriau), dressed in designer Emily Rebholz’s period costumes, wander through the action playing Gutkin and Halva’s wonderful klezmer music, much of it danced to the Hassidic-inflected choreography of David Dorfman. Tom Nelis (playing Schildkraut and others in a white, rabbinical beard) and the beautiful Katrina Lenk (noteworthy as Manke) show particularly nimble dance abilities in addition to their acting chops.

Indecent plays out on Riccardo Hernandez’s stripped-down set, sensitively lit by Christophe Akerlind, showing an upstage false proscenium, old-fashioned footlights, and other reminders of the play’s theatricalism; Tal Yarden’s surtitles provide vital information, like times, places, and translations.

Although there are occasional infusions of Yiddish, the actors use accents when speaking English, and none when speaking Yiddish; the projections also tell us which they’re speaking. To contract time, jump cuts are created by a ping and the words “a blink in time.”

The across-the-years, pageant-like structure, with seven actors playing over forty roles, seems more pronounced in a large Broadway theatre. With the actors relying on shortcuts, few characters appear more than two-dimensional. This often leads to declaiming the lines rather than living them, thereby underlining Indecent’s didactic qualities.

God of Vengeance has received a couple of recent Off-Broadway stagings that did nothing to enhance its once-vaunted reputation. Its stage life may have expired but you can get an excellent glimpse of its best features by a visit to Vogel and Taichman’s beautifully realized, if occasionally flawed, response to it.

Cort Theatre
138 W. 48th St., NYC
Through September 10

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 (








Healthcare and the Church: ‘Rebel in the Soul’

April 21st, 2017 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

Sarah Street and Patrick Fitzgerald in 'Rebel in the Soul' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Sarah Street and Patrick Fitzgerald in ‘Rebel in the Soul’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Rebel in the Soul, a brisk, compact biodrama by musician/composer/writer Larry Kirwin, is set in Ireland a few years after World War II but its tale of Dr. Noel Browne’s failed efforts to establish a state-sponsored healthcare system couldn’t be timelier.

Crisply staged by Charlotte Moore, The Irish Repertory Theatre’s artistic director, it’s consistently gripping although it too often substitutes expository monologues for dramatic action. However, several scenes, especially a riveting discussion toward the end between Browne (Patrick Fitzgerald) and Dr. John Charles McQuaid (John Keating), the Archbishop of Dublin, make up for the playwright’s overdependence on direct address.

It’s in those long speeches that we learn, for example, that Noel Browne (1915-97) was the offspring of a poverty-stricken family, many of whom succumbed to tuberculosis. After his father died of TB, when Noel was seven, he fell under the wing of a prosperous foster family, eventually becoming a physician.

Browne joined the politically radical Clann na Poblachta party in 1948 and campaigned to eradicate TB—of which he, too, was a victim—from Ireland. This led to his becoming Health Minister at 32 when the party, under Sean McBride (Sean Gormley), briefly took power.

Following his successful efforts in fighting TB, Browne sought to reduce widespread infant mortality by creating a Mother and Child scheme, where children, up to the age of 16, could get free healthcare regardless of family income. He was blocked, though, by conservative interests, principally the Catholic Church, which found ethical and social reasons—including fears of contraception, abortion, and socialism—to oppose such a program.

Sean Gormley and Patrick Fitzgerald in 'Rebel in the Soul.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Sean Gormley and Patrick Fitzgerald in ‘Rebel in the Soul.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The best parts of Rebel in the Soul are the scenes during which Browne seeks the support of McBride and argues his case with McQuaid. Both men are charismatic, gifted expositors of their political, social, and religious viewpoints; Kirwan gives them plenty of rhetorical fuel to fire their debates with the frustrated, impassioned, and equally articulate Browne. You can expect these arguments to offer, among other things, biting invective contrasting Irish theocracy with English atheism.

Also serving as a sounding board is Browne’s pretty wife, Phyllis (Sarah Street), with whom, in one scene, he dances to a pastiche period tune by Kirwan himself.

The production is in the Irish Rep’s tiny, downstairs venue, where John McDermott’s simple set, representing several locales, is little more than two desks on either side of the stage, and a chesterfield chair on wheels at center. There’s a projection screen at rear for Chris Kateff’s sometimes scratchy images of period events and architectural features.

Michael Gottlieb did the efficient lighting and Linda Fisher the period costumes. The latter look fine even from a first-row seat where you can see their weave and feel the whoosh of the archbishop’s robes swinging past.

Fitzgerald gives a colorful performance, hacking cough and all, as Browne although he sometimes seems almost manic in his intensity. Gormley’s McBride is every inch the smooth-talking, sharp-edged politician (he also plays a British physician), Keating makes the archbishop a craftily pompous debater, and Street is suitably persuasive as Mrs. Browne.

Patrick Fitzgerald and John Keating in 'Rebel in the Soul.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Patrick Fitzgerald and John Keating in ‘Rebel in the Soul.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Theatregoers who normally use listening devices should have no trouble hearing these players, who speak their heavily broguish lines with as much vigor as if they were upstairs on the mainstage; given the room’s intimacy, though, it wouldn’t hurt for the men to lower the decibel level a bit and stress the realism of their intentions over the grandiosity of their rhetoric. Also, during the monologues, looking directly at specific audience members, instead of over their heads, might make the speeches more personal and less oratorical.

America’s fight for universal healthcare may not have Ireland’s Catholic Church as its principal opponent; it does, however, have a party in power that holds fairly similar views, even if not couched in specifically theocratic terms. Rebel in the Soul makes no overt attempt to conflate what happened in Ireland in 1951 with America in 2017. Audiences can do that for themselves.

Rebel in the Soul
Irish Repertory Theatre/W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre
132 W. 22nd St., NYCThrough May 21

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 (

‘Sunday in the Park with George’ Revival Announces Cast Recording

April 20th, 2017 Comments off
Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford in 'Sunday in the Park with George.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford in ‘Sunday in the Park with George.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

The producers of the hit Broadway revival of New York City Center’s productionSunday in the Park with George starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford, announced today that the show will live on past its critically acclaimed, sold-out limited engagement, with a cast album to be released this summer by Warner Music Group.

The New York Times’ Ben Brantley declared this to be “one of those shows that seems destined to be forever spoken of with misty-eyed bragging rights by anyone who sees it.” Now this cast recording will allow those who couldn’t see it live to hear Gyllenhaal in his Broadway musical debut, and experience this beloved Sondheim score in a new way.

The cast recording, produced and mixed by Bart Migal, will include the entire Broadway company and will be recorded later this month.

The producers also announced today that Sunday in the Park with George has recouped its entire investment in just 56 performances, making it the first show of the 2016-2017 season to do so.

The Sarna Lapine-directed production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park with George began previews on February 11 and officially re-opened the historic Hudson Theatre(139-141 West 44th Street) on February 23, 2017.  The show was filmed at the matinee performance on April 19 for the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library’s Theatre on Tape and Film Archive and ends its sold-out, critically acclaimed limited run this Sunday, April 23.

“To have a beloved Sondheim / Lapine musical be the one that re-opens the historic Hudson Theatre has been an absolute triumph,” said Adam Speers, Executive Producer for Ambassador Theatre Group. “We’re so proud that audiences have embraced it as they have and beyond thrilled that Jake, Annaleigh and the rest of the cast’s brilliant performances will be preserved on a cast recording.”

California Dreaming: Audra McDonald to Perform in Beverly Hills

April 20th, 2017 Comments off
Audra McDonald (Photo: Autumn de Wilde via The Broadway Blog.)

Audra McDonald (Photo: Autumn de Wilde via The Broadway Blog.)

Audra McDonald heads west! The record-breaking, six-time Tony Award-winner makes her anticipated debut, as part of the acclaimed Broadway @ series, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, a one-night-only event featuring two intimate concerts at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 11. Produced by Mark Cortale, the Broadway legend will be joined on stage by Broadway @ series host and pianist Seth Rudetsky, who recently starred in the London premiere of his Broadway musical Disaster!

“Audra is a true Broadway legend, and we are thrilled to welcome her, along with Seth, to The Wallis in May,” said The Wallis’ Artistic Director Paul Crewes. “Our audiences are in for an unforgettable evening seeing these renowned performers in our beautiful and intimate Bram Goldsmith Theater.”

Seth Rudetsky (Photo provided by The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.)

Seth Rudetsky (Photo provided by The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.)

The evening features a seamless mix of intimate behind-the-scenes stories from one of Broadway’s biggest stars—prompted by Rudetsky’s probing, funny, revealing questions—and McDonald singing some of the biggest hits from her musical theater repertoire. This spontaneous evening of hilarity and show-stopping songs is not to be missed.

Since opening its doors in October 2013, The Wallis has produced or presented more than 100 dance, theater, opera, classical music and family programs to an ever-expanding audience. Located in the heart of Beverly Hills, California, The Wallis brings audiences world-class theater, dance and music, performed by many of the world’s most talented and sought-after artists.