Author Archive

Rose-Colored Romance: York Theatre’s ‘Marry Harry’

May 15th, 2017 Comments off
David Spadora and Morgan Cowling in 'Marry Harry.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

David Spadora and Morgan Cowling in ‘Marry Harry.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

If the real-life political drama of the last week has become just too much for you to handle and if you can’t snag a ticket to Hello, Dolly! (money well spent) or don’t have the funds for another one of Broadway’s sweet confections (perhaps not so well spent), York Theatre Company’s Marry Harry, may satisfy your hankering.

With a book by Jennifer Robbins, music by Dan Martin, and lyrics by Michael Biello, Marry Harry follows the shotgun romance of Little Harry (David Spadora) and Sherri (Morgan Cowling), who meet in an East Village alley after each has had a riff with his or her parent. Little Harry is looking to break away from the family’s Italian restaurant, overseen by his father, Big Harry (Lenny Wolpe). Sherri has just broken off her engagement after learning of her fiancé’s affair and now has to deal with her overbearing mother, Francine (Robin Skye). Framing the story are three “Village Voices,” (Ben Chavez, Jesse Manocherian, and Claire Saunders) who act as a Greek chorus but are invisible to the onstage characters.

There’s not much memorable from Robbins’ book, which crams in more plot points than ingredients in your mother’s lasagna. The score, too, while occasionally catchy, won’t leave you with ditties to hum out of the theatre. But what is worth seeing are the two charming performances by Wolpe and Spadora as father and son. Together, as well as individually, they’re able to bring an endearing sense of humanity to the overloaded script. Even in scenes with their more presentational female counterparts (please, somebody teach an acting class in how to have an onstage phone call), the men shine through.

'Marry Harry' at York Theatre Company. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Marry Harry’ at York Theatre Company. (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The joyful trio also offers some fun bits of staging, choreography and prop handling as directed/choreographed by Bill Castellino. Though their costumes (by Tyler M. Holland) look like they belong in Chicago rather than set against James Morgan’s Madeline-inspired backdrop, they keep the action light and frothy, like a cappuccino from Harry’s Cudicini Café.

Here’s what the other critics had to say…

This good-natured new show at the Theater at St. Peter’s also name-checks Vera Wang, the Ritz Hotel in Paris and 900 Park Avenue (a condo at 79th Street), but the practice doesn’t reflect character or action. The plot is one-note: Boy meets girl in alley. Boy and girl get drunk and sleep together. Promises are made and meet with strong reactions. A subplot about biscotti comes and goes. The New York Times

Director-choreographer Bill Castellino (Cagney) works hard to turn this TV dinner into a gourmet meal, but his swift and inventive staging can only do so much; James Morgan’s whimsically drawn cardboard set is a good deal more colorful than the characters and plot. Marry Harry? You won’t even want to swipe right. TimeOutNY

Thanks to an able cast and Bill Castellino’s (Cagney) nimble direction and choreography, Marry Harry is a lightweight, edible, 80-minute pasta fazool that makes the most of its high-calorie ingredients. Just don’t confuse it with brainfood. Theatre’s Leiter Side

Marry Harry
York Theatre Company
619 Lexington Avenue, NYC
Through May 21

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

Now Available! Cast Recording of Bette Midler in ‘Hello, Dolly!’

May 15th, 2017 Comments off

Hello Dolly Bette Midler

Masterworks Broadway proudly announces the release of The New Broadway Cast Recording of the 10-time Tony Award-nominated Hello, Dolly! starring three-time Grammy Award-winning legend Bette Midler as Dolly Gallagher Levi. Produced by multiple-Grammy Award winner Steven Epstein, with a cast of 37 and 28 musicians, the album is available everywhere now.

The Broadway revival of Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman’s masterpiece Hello, Dolly! is directed by four-time Tony Award-winner Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Warren Carlyle. Hello, Dolly! is now playing at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre.  The official opening night was April 20, 2017.

Hello, Dolly! instantly became the hottest ticket of the year when it broke the record for the best first day of ticket sales in Broadway history.  By the time it began previews, it had the largest pre-performance advance sale in Broadway history. Recently, the production shattered the record for the highest weekly gross of any show in the history of the Sam S. Shubert Theatre — a record set by a previous tenant over a nine-performance week — in just seven performances.

This Hello, Dolly! is the first new production of this classic musical (based on Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker) to appear on Broadway since it opened more than fifty years ago.  It pays tribute to the original work of legendary director/choreographer Gower Champion, which has been hailed both then and now as one of the greatest stagings in musical theater history.

Bette Midler is joined by Tony Award and four-time Emmy Award-winner David Hyde Pierce (Horace Vandergelder) two-time Tony Award nominee Gavin Creel (Cornelius Hackl), Tony Award nominee Kate Baldwin (Irene Molloy), Taylor Trensch (Barnaby Tucker), Beanie Feldstein (Minnie Fay), Will Burton (Ambrose Kemper), Melanie Moore (Ermengarde), Tony Award nominee Jennifer Simard (Ernestina), and an ensemble of 28.

15 Minutes with Justin Sayre

May 12th, 2017 Comments off
Justin Sayre (Photo: Kevin Yatarola via The Broadway Blog.)

Justin Sayre (Photo: Kevin Yatarola via The Broadway Blog.)

The Meeting* hosted by Justin Sayre — the monthly gathering of the International Order of Sodomites, the centuries-old organization which sets the mythic Gay Agenda — will conclude its acclaimed eight year run this Sunday, May 14 with two performances at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater. Both shows are sold-out but will be broadcast globally online for the first time with Joe’s Pub Livestream, which is available at

The acclaimed comedy/variety show is known for its audacious humor, trailblazing political discourse and button-pushing cultural exploration. Special guests will be announced soon. Lance Horne serves as the evening’s music director. The Broadway Blog had a chance to catch up with Sayre before his final soiree — this is what he had to say…

Justin Sayre (Photo: Ricardo Nelson via The Broadway Blog.)

Justin Sayre (Photo: Ricardo Nelson via The Broadway Blog.)

How did The International Oder of Sodomites come to fruition? And are there any charter members besides yourself? 
The original organization was founded in 1205 as part of the medieval guild system and since then we’ve been behind the scenes manipulating and maneuvering the lives and legacies of the LGBTQIA community.

Back then we were just all sodomites, which seemed easier to say but had perhaps harsh consequences. For many years, I worked with the organization in private and then in November of 2009 we had our first public meeting at The Duplex. We celebrated my patron saint, Edie Bouvier Beale. The membership is wide and extensive, celebrities, people who work with cheese, garbage men, real and figurative, we’re not choosey. Once you say the magic words, “I’m ****something besides straight****” you’re in.

Has honoring a celebrity always been part of the line-up?
Always. It’s a way to get people talking. If you were told you’re going to an event about gay culture and politics, snoozeville. But if you’re told you’re going to a night celebrating Diana Ross, and there will be discussions of politics and culture, I’d say sign me up. It was a way to reach out to the membership and celebrate that which has touched us, moved us, given us strength to be ourselves. That brings all sorts of people together, and that is at the heart of what The Meeting* is, a community event.

What is your inspiration for choosing the season of notables?
We have an extensive list, and we rack our collective brains. We try to mix it up a great deal, selecting artists from all over the map. It’s all about inclusion, so we try to vary the lineup from month to month. The final shows was a grouping of people we’ve loved and always wanted to do. The last show will be my favorites. I think it’s only write after 7 years, don’t you.

In one of your recent shows, which paid tribute to Michael Bennett, there were some terrific guest appearances, including his famous “Turkey Lurkey Time” choreography from Promises, Promises. Have you ever attempted this dance in the privacy of your own home? If so, what might you compare it to?
I’m more of a drunken Fosse girl myself. I love a kitchen into bathroom Rich Man’s Frugue.

It’s the last season of The Meeting*. How else are we to get our fix of hilarity draped in a sensible shawl?
I will still be making shows and still making work at Joe’s Pub. It was simply time to end this side of it. Being the Chairman of The Board has been a rare and unbelievable joy in my life for sometime, but I think it’s time to try new things.

You’re very funny. But you also have a sense of gravitas when it comes to our current political climate. Has this recently influenced your work or have you always drawn inspiration from the end of the world as we know it?
I have always been talking about politics and the way we treat each other as a community. It’s the guts of the show for me.

Can we expect to see you at the Equality March in Washington this June? Do you have some tips for creative signage? Because, as you know, any protest is all about the accessories. 
I will certainly be. But I’m very bad with signs. Just look for the bellowing floor length pashmina and you’ll find me.

Justin Sayre

The Lamentable Tale of a Dog; as told by Beppo, formerly of the Castaglioni company of Padua — Sayre’s new solo work — will debut on Thursday, May 18 at 9 p.m. as part of the High Line “Out of Line” event series. The show, which features sets by Sully Ross, costumes by Allan Herrara and artwork by Adam Michael, will take place on the High Line at 14th Street. Melody Berger is featured on violin. The event is free but reservations are suggested. Visit for tickets and information.



He Said, She Said: ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’

May 11th, 2017 Comments off
Laurie Metcalf in 'A Doll's House, Part 2.' (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe via The Broadway Blog.)

Laurie Metcalf in ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2.’ (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe via The Broadway Blog.)

It begins with a knock. And a chuckle. The knock is onstage. The chuckle, from audience members familiar with Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, one of the most significant plays of the 19th century. The play questioned marriage norms and a woman’s role in society, and at the end, its female protagonist, Nora, leaves her husband and famously walks out the door — leaving her husband, her children, and life as she knows it, behind. That knock is a sure sign that something is amiss.

A Doll’s House, Part 2 picks up 15 years later and Nora has come home. Well, not home, exactly, for she’s made quite a life for herself as a writer working under a pseudonym. If home is where the heart is, then it’s not here, for Nora seems perfectly happy—sometimes giddy, in fact — with the new life she’s created for herself.

Except there’s one major problem. Nora’s real name has been found out, and there’s someone out to ruin her, for her writings have inspired other women to leave their husbands and this particular fellow — a judge — isn’t too keen on that. It gets better. Or worse, as the case may be. Nora’s husband, Torvald, never filed divorce papers, so all of Nora’s endeavors have technically been illegal. So the gauntlet has been thrown down. Either she gets Torvald to agree to a divorce or she likely faces incarceration. And then there’s the small issue of her children she’s left behind.

The cast of 'A Doll's House, Part 2.' (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2.’ (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe via The Broadway Blog.)

Nimbly written by Lucas Hnath and exquisitely directed by Sam Gold, A Doll’s House, Part 2 is a tour de force for its ensemble of actors, each of which has earned a Tony nomination for his or her performance. At its core is Laurie Metcalf as Nora, who relishes Hnath’s script for every juicy word and smartly juxtaposes period conventions and modernisms.

Metcalf’s counterpoints include the hilarious Jane Houdyshell as Anne Marie, the family nanny who sacrificed her own life to pick up the pieces after Nora’s departure and essentially raised her children. Her foul-mouthed character is terrific ammunition for what’s in store.

Eventually, Torvald (Chris Cooper) comes home, and the former couple has at it in a series of verbal boxing matches that sling blame, hurts, and truths. If you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship, you might cringe at the familiarity of arguments. Cooper is, perhaps, more subtle than his onstage counterparts. He’s made a career in film and television, and while you can see the cogs turning, it’s not quite as dynamic a performance as his female co-stars.

This includes Condola Rashad as Emmy, Nora and Torvald’s daughter. Simultaneously sweet-natured yet with a sharp tongue that she inherited from her mother despite her lack of presence, Emmy hatches yet another plan to possibly preserve everyone’s futures, but Nora is reluctant to latch on, saying one of many resonating passages throughout the play:

…20, 30 years from now
the world isn’t going to be the kind of place I say it’s going to be unless
I’m the one to make it that way –

Gold directs A Doll’s House, Part 2 with the precision of a surgeon, gifting the ensemble with a physical and emotional roadmap that is nothing short of electric. The production design, including scenic design by Miriam Buether, costume design by David Zinn, and lighting design by Jennifer Tipton, supports this vision.

Torvald eventually returns, having taken action of his own, but once again, Nora stands on her own two feet, deciding to bear the consequences, finally saying:

The world didn’t change as much as I thought it would,
but I know that someday everything will be different, and everyone will be free — freer than they are now.
… I just hope I live to see it

Don’t we all.

A Doll’s House, Part 2
Golden Theatre
252 West 45th Street, NYC
Through July 23

A special midnight performance of A Doll’s House, Part 2 is scheduled for Thursday, May 18, with proceeds benefitting The Actors Fund.



Politics of the Personal: ‘Oslo’

May 10th, 2017 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

'Oslo' at Lincoln Center Theater (T Charles Erickson Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Oslo’ at Lincoln Center Theater (T Charles Erickson Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

I have a friend who’s written a play about a major 20th-century diplomatic crisis but is struggling to find a way to compress its many characters and complex issues into a solid drama with a reasonable run time. I believe, though, he might get a handle on his play if he studies Oslo, J.T. Rogers’s stimulating envisioning of the secret talks that led to the Oslo Peace Accords, signed in 1993.

At the signing, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzik Rabin shook hands with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in the White House Rose Garden as President Clinton looked on. Regardless of the criticisms the rather shaky Accords received, no other diplomatic breakthrough has come as close to establishing Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Oslo, warmly received on its premiere last summer at Lincoln Center’s Newhouse, is now ensconced upstairs at the Broadway-level Beaumont, where the same 15 actors are giving it a vigorous, if not particularly subtle, performance under the firm baton of Bartlett Sher.

'Oslo' at Lincoln Center Theater (T Charles Erickson Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Oslo’ at Lincoln Center Theater (T Charles Erickson Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

The fascinating story is enacted on Michael Yeargan’s imposing yet spare set, intended to suggest multiple neutral environments, with perfectly timed trap doors and actors smoothly moving furniture from one of the many scenes to another.

Rogers’s play is about the well-documented but previously little-known backchannel diplomacy that led to the Accords. The material was first brought to Rogers’s attention in 2011 when he met one of the two Norwegian diplomats whose idea it was. He then fashioned his extensive research into this nearly three-hour drama, lightened by occasional humor, focusing on the principal participants.

At its heart are the Norwegians, Terje Rød-Larsen, a highly placed sociologist, and his wife, Mona Juul, an official in the Foreign Ministry. Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle carry these roles with marvelous dignity and aplomb.

Terje and Mona believe that the only way to bring peace to these combative Middle Eastern rivals is to begin on the most basic human level, not at conference tables visible to the entire world, but in private meetings between dedicated representatives discussing matters unofficially on behalf of their leaders. Everyone else, especially the U.S., is to be kept in the dark.

The theory is that when the adversaries get to know each other as people, not abstractions, over food (in particular, a housekeeper’s [Henny Russell] waffles) and drink (Johnny Walker deserves a Nobel Prize), they’ll learn to live and let live.

Oslo is the result of how Rogers’s research led him to imagine Terje and Mona’s maneuvering to bring the two sides together, especially when facing the skepticism of Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst (T. Ryder Smith), and the contentious behavior of the hated enemies when left alone in the same room. His method, as Rogers has written, involved conflating characters, compressing chronology, and assigning actions to others than those who did them.

In addition, Rogers says: “Though every character . . . is named for a real person, the words they say are mine.” Thus we not only get some funny jokes that were probably never told but hear countless “F-word” missiles being launched, an overused tic presumably meant to reveal the distinguished participants as flesh-and-blood human beings.

Rogers, occasionally assisted by video projections (by 59 Productions) of both information and bloody events, wisely incorporates both sides of the conflict without favoring either. All the familiar obstacles, such as the fates of Jerusalem and the Israeli settlements, are on the table and each side gets to quarrel passionately about the other’s egregious behavior.

In fact, enough angry steam is blown off to crumble the walls of Jericho; there’s so much shouting it’s a wonder anything gets done at all. (These frequent histrionic outbreaks, which tend to dehumanize and theatricalize the negotiators, are the production’s greatest weakness.)

Meanwhile, Mona and Terje steer clear of partisanship as they tiptoe through the complicated minefield to keep the sensitive talks on track.

'Oslo' at Lincoln Center Theater (T Charles Erickson Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Oslo’ at Lincoln Center Theater (T Charles Erickson Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

Of the three principal leaders, Arafat, Rabin, and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres (Daniel Oreskes), only the latter actually appears, although Arafat is comically impersonated by Uri Savir, the volatile, wise guy Deputy General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, energetically acted by Michael Aronov.

The talks begin with four participants, the PLO Finance Minister Ahmed Qurie a.k.a. Abu Ala (Anthony Azizi) and the PLO Liaison Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani), an explosive Marxist, for the Palestinians, and, for the Israelis, two Haifa University professors, Yair Hirschfeld (Oreskes) and Ron Pundak (Daniel Jenkins).

Only after the discussions move one step forward, one step back, toward a resolution, do they progress to where the leaders themselves learn of them, which leads to their eventual conclusion.

Promising as were the results, of course, it wasn’t long before they were riddled with bullets and sprayed with blood. Today the situation remains much as it was before, with little optimism in view. Oslo reminds us of how difficult the path to peace remains.

Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont
150 W. 65th St, NYC
Through June 18

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 (






Don’t Miss: Drag Queens of Comedy 2017

May 9th, 2017 Comments off
Lady Bunny (Photo provided by Drag Queens of Comedy via The Broadway Blog.)

Lady Bunny (Photo provided by Drag Queens of Comedy via The Broadway Blog.)

History will be made in Times Square in May when the “Crossroads of America” plays host to The Drag Queens of Comedy 2017, featuring 10 of the most outrageous and uproarious drag queens to ever throw shade over the “Great White Way.” Producer, celebutante and heiress Sasha Soprano presents the largest drag queen show ever served up to The Big Apple!

“The Drag Queens of Comedy” stars Alaska Thunderfuck 5000, Willam, Bob the Drag Queen, Sasha Soprano, Miss Coco Peru, Lady Bunny, Jackie Beat, Peaches Christ, Heklina and Lady Red Couture.

The Drag Queens of Comedy 2017, touring across America, arrives for a one-night-only, two-performance show. These headline grabbers have made their name in clubs across America and on the world-renowned “RuPaul’s Drag Race” TV show, where most of America first met them, fell in love or were scandalized by them.

Guests who attend this epic, not-to-be-missed comedy extravaganza will roar with laughter as these “girls” serve up politically incorrect humor guaranteed to offend everybody. Those who are easily shocked should take their anti-anxiety medication before arriving at the PlayStation Theater.

The Drag Queens of Comedy
PlayStation Theater
1515 Broadway at 44th Street, NYC
6 p.m. – click here for tickets.
10 p.m. – click here for tickets.
Show entry is limited to people 16 years or older.

Murky Waters: ‘Pacific Overtures’

May 8th, 2017 Comments off
'Pacific Overtures' at Classic Stage Company. (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Pacific Overtures’ at Classic Stage Company. (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Is less more, or is less simply less? John Doyle (Broadway’s The Color Purple and Sweeney Todd)—who has made a career of stripping shows down to their essence—this time attempts to cast his magic spell on Pacific Overtures, the problematic musical by Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and John Weidman (book) that tells the tale of mid 19th century Japan and the impact of western civilization.

The original production, directed by Harold Prince, opened in January 1976 and lasted a mere 193 performances. A 2004 revival fared worse, lasting only 69 performances. This is not to say that a show’s credibility should be judged by its commercial success, but in this case—including Classic Stage Company’s pared-down staging—it raises some flags about Weidman and Sondheim’s stylistically complex piece.

Set against the backdrop of Japan’s Edo Period, when the country was under Shogun rule, Pacific Overtures follows the tale of a samurai and a fisherman who are forced to confront Commodore Matthew Perry and his troops as they attempt to open up trade routes through gunboat diplomacy. The nature of this conflict, both on a global political scale as well as its intimate underpinnings, has plenty of theatrical potential. But it requires an astute ear to appreciate Sondheim’s score.

'Pacific Overtures' at Classic Stage Company. (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Pacific Overtures’ at Classic Stage Company. (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

There are a few cherished musical moments, including “Someone in a Tree” and perhaps the show’s most notable song, “Pretty Lady,” but most of the score requires a pedagogical undertaking. Doyle does little to elevate or clarify the complex script, instead, stripping it down to an ensemble of actors playing multiple roles (but no instruments, thank goodness, in this case).

The original production was criticized for its hybrid of Kabuki and western styles. And while the extremes aren’t present in this production, it’s still a muddy convergence as the actors—dressed in what looks like a close-out sale from a Banana Republic factory store (costumes by Ann Hould-Ward)—perform on a tatami mat with Japanese draperies and props for accents.

Doyle’s staging, heavy on processionals and other stylized movements, traps the acting company in choreography that squelches any instinct for emotion, which is a shame given the immense onstage talent.

Martin Gottfried, author of Sondheim (1993, Harry N. Abrams), wrote of the original production, “The musical theater is a hot place, offering emotional transport for the price of admission. This show was as cool as a Japanese watercolor. Perhaps its downfall lay in that very intention and its creators’ ingenuity in achieving it.”

Unfortunately, not much has changed.


George Takei in ‘Pacific Overtures.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Here’s what other critics have to say:

This revival ought to be just as divisive as Doyle’s other stabs at Sondheim. Some will find that Doyle brings clarity and intimacy to a challenging work, and others will be angry over the textual omissions or the lack of visuals. Personally, I found the production to be a plain and unexciting affair that, for the most part, drained away rather than enhanced the musical’s impact. AM New York

The sometimes-glorious, sometimes-lackluster revival that John Doyle has staged in Classic Stage’s 200-seat Off Broadway home takes that less-is-more proposition nearly to a point of no return. Unlike Harold Prince’s original production at the 1,500-seat Winter Garden, with its jaw-dropping Boris Aronson scenery and costumes by Florence Klotz, Mr. Doyle starts from zero and adds only what he feels he must. He’s an essentialist, not a minimalist. The New York Times

Doyle stages each song and story interlude with exacting precision and a graceful sense of spatial dynamics, continually reshaping the mood with a deft assist from Jane Cox’s lighting. And while each musical set piece feels distinct from the one that preceded it, there’s a mesmerizing fluidity to the pared-down production — an uncluttered harmony that’s both enchanting and mournfully sad. The story may be confusing at times to those unfamiliar with the show, but the overall effect is transfixing. The Hollywood Reporter

Pacific Overtures
Classic Stage Company
136 East 13th Street
Through June 18

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

Baby, It’s Cold Outside: ‘Ernest Shackleton Loves Me’

May 8th, 2017 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

Wade McCollum and Valerie Vigoda in 'Ernest Shackleton Loves Me.' (Photo: Jeff Carpenter via The Broadway Blog.)

Wade McCollum and Valerie Vigoda in ‘Ernest Shackleton Loves Me.’ (Photo: Jeff Carpenter via The Broadway Blog.)

Spring may be busting out all over, but I’d recommend you unpack your winter gear, get out your compass, and board the nearest icebreaker for Eighth Avenue and 43rd Street to see Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, the adventurously innovative musical now melting frozen hearts at the Second Stage.

Written by Joe DiPietro (Memphis), with absorbing music by Brendan Milburn and sprightly lyrics by Val Vigoda (husband and wife members of the Groovelily trio), this unusual 90-minute work blends music, comedy, history, and contemporary social angst in a multimedia smoothie I promise won’t give you brain freeze.

Struggling composer-musician Kat (Vigoda), a 41-year-old single woman, lives in a cluttered, ice-cold Brooklyn apartment with her crying five-month-old baby. Meanwhile, her negligent, faithless boyfriend, Bruce (Wade McCollum), who failed to pay the electric bill, tours the country as part of a Journey cover band.

Val Vigoda and Wade McCollum in 'Ernest Shackleton Loves Me.' (Photo: Jeff Carpenter via The Broadway Blog.)

Val Vigoda and Wade McCollum in ‘Ernest Shackleton Loves Me.’ (Photo: Jeff Carpenter via The Broadway Blog.)

Using a complex arrangement of electronic musical equipment, including a live-looping machine, she speaks and sings her story while playing an electric violin strapped to her neck, composing and recording it as we watch. (Her playing is supplemented from offstage by keyboard-playing musical director, Ryan O’Connell.) She also chats with Bruce and others (all delightfully played by the versatile McCollum) via Skype, the images being projected on a large upstage screen.

Despairing because of her financial problems—she’s fired from her gig composing music for a video game—Kat tries out an online dating service, Cupid’s Leftovers, “your last stop for any hope of love.” Somehow—perhaps because she hasn’t slept for 36 hours—she gets connected across the years with famed British explorer Ernest Shackleton (McCollum again), who’s in the mood for love.

The banjo-playing Shackleton, who emerges amid clouds of frost from Kat’s refrigerator, enlists her on his fabled Antarctica exploration of 1914-1917 aboard The Endurance. Theatrically (and historically) simplified as it is, the experience, enacted against black and white footage shot during the actual expedition, turns out to be remarkably stirring, for Kat as well as us, not least because of Milburn’s thrusting, compulsive score.

Val Vigoda in 'Ernest Shackleton Loves Me.' (Photo: Jeff Carpenter via The Broadway Blog.)

Val Vigoda in ‘Ernest Shackleton Loves Me.’ (Photo: Jeff Carpenter via The Broadway Blog.)

It takes a little time for Ernest Shackleton to warm you up, what with its skeletonized setting, concert-like platforms, and assorted wooden crates; its unconventional narrative style; and its wide variety of still and moving images. Once you’re on board, though, director Lisa Peterson creatively steers you through a string of wild adventures, including climbing a mountain (of metal scaffolding).

There’s also a thrilling journey in an open boat (those crates do come in handy) across 800 miles of open sea during torrential storms, as Kat and Shackleton seek aid for his 22 men, stranded when their ship, The Endurance, gets icebound.

Best of all, Ernest Shackleton is a tale not only of a famed expedition but an inspirational encounter, hallucinatory as it may be, that both enlightens and empowers the once miserable Kat so that she can take control of her life again. An uplifting coda proves that her ship has, indeed, been righted. Who knows? Perhaps Shackleton’s sappy but uplifting message to stick to your guns through the bad times, as well as the good, will do the same for others. As Ernest and Kat sing:

Never mind that you’re out
on the edge of the earth
and it seems like you’ll never succeed
when you think that you’re down,
fight for all that you’re worth,
and you’ll find that you have
all the strength that you need.

Alexander V. Nichols is the inventive mastermind behind the visual design, with spot-on costuming by Chelsea Cook (mainly black hipster garb for Vigoda and polar gear for Shackleton), while Rob Kaplowitz scores highly for his sound design. The icing (if I may) on the cake, though, is the work of Vigoda and McCollum, both of whom have played these roles in pre-New York productions.

Vigoda, a gifted singer-musician, makes Kate a determined presence, attacking the role with vigor (she was once an army lieutenant). But I was bowled over by the bearded McCollum, a tall, athletic, deep-voiced actor, who not only sings extremely well but displays chameleonic virtuosity in multiple roles and charismatic chops that allow him to be commandingly heroic at one moment and broadly or wryly comic at another. McCollum is one of the most refreshing presences on the current New York stage.

I guess you could say I loved Ernest Shackleton Loves Me.

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me
Second Stage/Tony Kiser Theatre
305 W. 43rd St., NYC
Through June 11

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 (


Melissa Errico Sings Sondheim at Feinstein’s/54 Below

May 5th, 2017 Comments off
Melissa Errico (Photo provided by Sam Morris PR via The Broadway Blog.)

Melissa Errico (Photo provided by Sam Morris PR via The Broadway Blog.)

Tony Award-nominated singer and actress Melissa Errico will return to Feinstein’s/54 Below on Saturday, June 3 at 7 p.m. for the NYC debut of her acclaimed concert “Melissa Errico Sings Sondheim” where she will lend her gorgeous voice to the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, including songs from shows of his that she has starred in. With numbers from Gypsy, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, Anyone Can Whistle, Company, A Little Night Music, and more, the concert is one no Sondheim or Broadway fan should miss.

As DC Arts wrote from the debut of “Melissa Errico Sings Sondheim”: “Her song choices were interesting and varied, [from] a fun jazz arrangement of ‘Not While I’m Around’ from Sweeney Todd to slightly lesser-heard Sondheim songs. Her rendition of ‘(Not) Getting Married Today’ from Company was hilarious and had the audience in stitches. Errico’s skill as a singer and as an actress was most clearly evident in her rendition of ‘Send in the Clowns,’ the highlight of the night.”

Errico’s history with Sondheim began when he selected her to star as Dot in Sunday In The Park With George at The Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration. She went on to perform many tribute concerts for Sondheim at such venues as Avery Fisher Music Hall, Symphony Space, and The Natural History Museum. Errico was honored to costar as Clara opposite Judy Kuhn in Passion at Classic Stage Company, and critics called Errico’s Drama Desk-nominated performance “sublime; I’ve never seen or heard a better Clara,” (The Wall Street Journal).

In the 2016 Encores! season, Melissa tackled one of Sondheim’s most controversial and conflicted heroines when she shone as Leona in Do I Hear A Waltz?. For this, it was said that “Errico delivers an emotionally complex and haunting performance” (The Hollywood Reporter) and her interpretation was called “exquisite” (The New York Times).

Tickets are $40-$80 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 646-476-3551.

Recap: The New York Pops 34th Birthday Gala

May 4th, 2017 Comments off
The New York Pops 34 Birthday Gala at Carnegie Hall. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

The New York Pops 34 Birthday Gala at Carnegie Hall. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

The New York Pops celebrated its 34th birthday on Monday night with a star-studded Carnegie Hall concert honoring actress Kelli O’Hara, director Barlett Sher, and Karen van Bergen (CEO, Omnicom PR Group). It was the first time The Pops paid tribute to an artist/director collaboration. O’Hara and Sher’s longtime creative partnership dates back to 2005’s The Light in the Piazza and also includes South Pacific, The Bridges of Madison County, and The King and I.

The evening, helmed by music director and conductor Steven Reineke, featured works from the pair’s creative endeavors as well as tributes to their solo efforts. The evening began with a sweeping orchestration of music from The Bridges of Madison County, arranged and orchestrated by the show’s composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown.

Next on the roster was Brian D’Arcy James singing “At the Fountain” from Sweet Smell of Success, in which he co-starred with O’Hara. James — always in terrific voice — overcame what has become a common issue with Pops concerts at Carnegie Hall: poor sound design. Muffled and flat, the mix was eventually fine-tuned by mid-evening, but it’s a continuing frustration at one of the world’s most notable concert venues.

Other highlights included opera star Gioachino Rossini (appearing courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera), singing “Una voce poco fa” from Il barbiere di Siviglia; Steven Pasquale’s stunning rendition of “It All Fades Away” from The Bridges of Madison County (so powerful that it actually brought the audience member sitting in front of me to tears); Marin Mazzie’s luminescent rendition of “Hello, Young Lovers” from The King and I; and a trio of Mazzie, Judy Kuhn and Rebecca Luker singing “Make Someone Happy.”

Kelli O'Hara and Steven Reineke. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Kelli O’Hara and Steven Reineke. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

In an unusual turn, the honoree took to the stage. For the finale, O’Hara sang “Fable” from The Light in the Piazza for a captivating conclusion. Visibly touched by the evening’s outpouring, O’Hara truly has one of the most magnificent voices on Broadway and beyond.

With the mission to broaden public awareness and enjoyment of America’s rich musical heritage through a presentation of concerts of the highest quality in traditional and non-traditional settings, The New York Pops is also a big proponent of arts in education. More than 60,000 students have participated in the orchestra’s free education programs since 1990, and there were more than 800 of them in the balcony for this year’s birthday celebration.

The New York Pops returns to Forest Hills Stadium on June 8 for a concert featuring the music of John Williams, including selections from Star Wars, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Indiana Jones, and more.