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Empty Angst: The New Group’s ‘All the Fine Boys’

by April Stamm

Isabelle Fuhrman and Abigail Breslin in 'All the Fine Boys.' (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

Isabelle Fuhrman and Abigail Breslin in ‘All the Fine Boys.’ (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

What could be better fodder for a play than the oppressive wretchedness and frenetic glee of being a middle school girl in small town America in the 80s? You’ve got your disillusionment with family and peers who don’t understand you, awkwardness of living in a body that’s changing so rapidly it doesn’t even seem like your own, budding sexuality wrapped in anticipation and fear, all set to a perfect soundtrack from the likes of The Cure, The Go-Go’s, and The Smiths. Unfortunately, Erica Schmidt’s foray into this very world in her new play, All the Fine Boys, misses those juicy marks at almost every turn.

Set in suburban South Carolina, All the Fine Boys follows best friends Emily and Jenny as they navigate their middle school existence through their friendship with each other and their respective relationships with older beaus. Emily is head over heels for Adam, a senior, and a regular artsy, rebel, guitar-playing, self-involved, minor league bad boy. As for Jenny, she throws herself, perhaps not knowing exactly where she’ll land, at a man double her age from her church. The action of the play flips back and forth between the two couples as their interactions turn to ersatz relationships, and then fall apart in both predictable and pseudo-shocking ways.

As a script, All the Fine Boys does not give actors much to chew on. If we are to take in the play as a “slice of life” drama, the dialog and character development fall flat. Both girls are drawn with broad, uncomplicated strokes, and while there are contradictions, they play more as liberties taken to move the plot along as opposed to honest and interesting character crafting. However, if we should look at the play and its writing less literally and assume the four characters are symbols of the struggles of youth and complications of love and sex, then that would mean we should see love, sex, and youth as trite and banal because that’s what plays out in these 100 minutes.

Abigail Breslin and Joe Tippett in 'All the Fine Boys.' (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

Abigail Breslin and Joe Tippett in ‘All the Fine Boys.’ (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

As Emily, Isabelle Fuhrman pulls from the role what she can. Although she takes a scene or two to convince us, Fuhrman does eventually find tiny bits of truth in Emily, the smart, new girl in school who is desperate for warmth and attention. On the other hand, Abigail Breslin as Jenny never quite finds her groove. She is playacting, and cannot get herself off of the page. She seems uncomfortable on stage, noticeably agitated by her costumes and stilted in her delivery. If she could channel the awkwardness as an actor to the awkwardness of her character it could work, but Breslin can’t find her way.

The two men don’t fare much better. Alex Wolff’s young, cocky Adam comes off as the same guitar wielding, angst-ridden teen we’ve seen a million times with no nuance. As for Joe, Trippett’s portrayal of the conflicted, religious zealot and pedophilic Joseph, is blank and without passion, making his sometimes ridiculous and often impulsive decisions as a character completely nonsensical.

Isabelle Fuhrman and Alex Wolff in 'All the Fine Boys' (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

Isabelle Fuhrman and Alex Wolff in ‘All the Fine Boys’ (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

Amy Rubin’s set and Erica Schmidt’s direction may have worked on paper. The stifled, dark mottled walls serve as a depressing living room, Jenny’s basement, Adam’s bedroom, and Joseph’s apartment. The scenes change as they run into each other, one beginning before the last is cleared away, which does keep things moving along. Both create a feeling of fast, yet strangely crowded loneliness that is probably meant to mirror the characters’ strife. However, with so little in the play to connect with, it just comes off as an ugly room and a forced pace.

Being a girl in her early teens is painfully awkward and anyone who ever was one knows that. However, instead of delving into that world and helping us to feel something about it, All the Fine Boys simply sits with not much to say.

All the Fine Boys
The New Group
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street, NYC
Through March 26

April Stamm is a freelance theater, food, and lifestyle journalist. She is a regular contributor to EDGE Media Network.

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‘Miss Saigon’ Returns to Broadway

February 28th, 2017 View Comment(s)
Eva Noblezada in the London production of 'Miss Saigon.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Eva Noblezada in the London production of ‘Miss Saigon.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Previews begin Wednesday, March 1 at 8 pm for Cameron Mackintosh’s acclaimed new production of Boublil and Schönberg’s legendary musical Miss Saigon, at The Broadway Theatre (1681 Broadway). The original production ofMiss Saigon opened at the same theatre on April 11, 1991 and played through January 28, 2001.

Directed by Laurence Connor (the recent hit revival of Les Misérables, School of Rock), the Broadway return ofMiss Saigon will feature four of its London stars: Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer, Eva Noblezada as Kim, Alistair Brammer as Chris and Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi. The cast also includes Katie Rose Clarke as Ellen, Nicholas Christopher as John, Devin Ilaw as Thuy. Lianah Sta. Ana will play the role of Kim at certain performances.Miss Saigon has its official opening Thursday, March 23 at 6:30 pm.Miss Saigon will play a limited engagement through January 13, 2018 before launching a North American tour.

The London production of 'Miss Saigon.' (Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench and Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

The London production of ‘Miss Saigon.’ (Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench and Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Miss Saigon has music by Claude-Michel Schönberg with lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil, adapted from original French lyrics by Alain Boublil, with additional lyrics by Michael Mahler. The new production is directed by Laurence Connor with musical staging by Bob Avian and additional choreography by Geoffrey Garratt. Production design is by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley based on an original concept by Adrian Vaux; costume design by Andreane Neofitou; lighting design by Bruno Poet; sound design by Mick Potter; and projections by Luke Halls.  Orchestrations are by William David Brohn; musical supervision by Stephen Brooker and musical direction by James Moore.  Casting is by Tara Rubin Casting / Merri Sugarman CSA.

Miss Saigon tells the story of the last days of the Vietnam War, when 17-year-old Kim (Eva Noblezada) is forced to work in a Saigon bar run by a notorious character known as the Engineer (Jon Jon Briones).  There she meets and falls in love with an American GI named Chris (Alistair Brammer) but they are torn apart by the fall of Saigon.  For three years Kim goes on an epic journey of survival to find her way back to Chris, who has no idea he has fathered a son.

The new production of Miss Saigon opened in London in May 2014 to record-breaking advance sales and critical acclaim. Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph wrote, “This thrilling new production spills out beyond the theater and speaks directly to the times we live in.  Not only one of the most innovative shows of the last quarter century, but one of the most profound and lasting great musicals of the 20th century.  There is something in the air which meansMiss Saigon is not only right to come back, but it is urgent and necessary that it comes back now.”

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Categories: The Buzz

Lost at Sea: ‘Kid Victory’ at the Vineyard Theatre

February 27th, 2017 View Comment(s)

 

The cast of 'Kid Victory.' (Photo Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Kid Victory.’ (Photo Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Kid Victory, the new musical that opened last week by Greg Pierce (book and lyrics) and John Kander (music) at the Vineyard Theatre, is not easy to watch. That’s not always a bad thing, but it makes for an uneven exploration of difficult subject matter that hits more dissonant chords than likely intended.

Luke (Brandon Flynn) has just returned home after a harrowing year during which Michael (Jeffrey Denman), a predator who lured the teen through the social networking component of an online game, held him captive. Now at home, Luke is trying to assimilate back to life in high school and at home with his religious and doting mother, Eileen (Karen Ziemba), and his patient but passive father, Joseph (Daniel Jenkins).

Brandon Flynn and Jeffry Denman in 'Kid Victory.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Brandon Flynn and Jeffry Denman in ‘Kid Victory.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Luke struggles with flashbacks and feelings complicated by his own sexuality. He finds solace in Emily (Dee Roscioli), the owner of a local shop, Wicker Witch of the West. Meanwhile, his mother engages Gail (Ann Arvia), a member of her Baptist fellowship, for some amateur therapy, which only pushes Luke into further introspection.

Other characters weave their way in and out of the storyline. Detective Marks (Joel Blum) makes a brief tap-dancing appearance where he question’s Luke’s compliance; Andrew (Blake Zolfo) arrives for another tap-dancing number as an online hook-up that Luke arranges to meet in an abandoned house; and Suze (Laura Darrell, sans tap shoes), Luke’s casual girlfriend who is desperate to reconnect since his return.

Flynn, a recent college graduate from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, is tasked with carrying the emotional weight of Kid Victory, a pseudonym that his character has created for his online persona. It’s a sweet and vulnerable performance, and oddly non-musical: Luke is the only character that doesn’t sing. Perhaps it is to symbolize some kind of emotional barrier, but it the very thing that makes the musical art form so unique and this omission strips the character of his evolution. Instead, Pierce ends the show with Luke’s description of a creaky shutter outside of his basement prison that dissolves into a solo for his father. And in a final bit of tragically misplaced writing, we’re left with an image of Luke pantomiming a confession to his dad, only to be upstaged by Michael’s demise from the previous scene.

Kander’s score has a few melodic highlights, including the opening “Lord, Carry Me Home” and “People Like Us,” in which eccentric Emily extols what makes each of us unique. It’s juxtaposed to Luke’s admission of his time with Michael and it’s as though she never hears him, ending the song with an invitation to grab a burger. Other bits of the score harken back to Kander’s previous work, with the aforementioned tap sequences (choreographed by Christopher Windom) acting as a kind of social commentary.

Directory Liesl Tommy does little to bring cohesion to Kid Victory, which suffers from an identity crisis that rivals its lead character. The realistic basement set design by Peter Hylenski is a disturbing reminder of Luke’s traumatic experience. Regardless of the scene, the looming dinginess and entrapment overwhelm the action. I assume this is to mimic his mental torment, but its literal interpretation is often at odds with the narrative.

Though Flynn and Denman deliver complex, frightened (and frightening) characters, the rest of Kid Victory’s cast suffers under the heavy-handed material. And as a whole, no one wins.

Kid Victory
Vineyard Theatre
108 East 15th Street, NYC
Through March 19

 

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15 Minutes with LaChanze

February 26th, 2017 View Comment(s)
LaChanze (Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

LaChanze (Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

One of Broadway’s biggest voices will be rolling into the Highline Ballroom on Monday, February 27, but don’t expect show tunes. LaChanze will be celebrating the launch of her new EP, Feeling Good.

The inspiration came from a cabaret set that the Tony Award-winning actress (The Color Purple) has been performing, coupled with work on her memoir. Together, she felt there were stories to tell that would showcase the music with key moments of her life.

LaChanze (Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

LaChanze (Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

“All of the moments are very specific — from my childhood through adolescence, adulthood and midlife,” says the actress, who, after several ensemble roles on Broadway, captured the hearts of audiences and critics alike in Once on This Island. The show, directed by Tamara Tunie, also touches upon some of the challenges she’s faced and the people who were influential in getting her back into her life after a personal tragedy.

One of LaChanze favorite moments, which she describes as “pure joy,” is from a specific moment from her childhood, expressed through Dianne Reeves’ radiant song, “Nine.” The multi-talented artist also showcases her own songwriting skills with “You’re Free.”

LaChanze is thrilled to be back at the Hammerstein Ballroom, where she played a Valentine’s Day concert in 2009 and fell in love with the space. In the heart of Chelsea and tucked under the historic High Line elevated park, the venue’s size sits comfortable between a cabaret and concert venue.

“The stage size is huge and equipped with terrific lighting. I love the venue. It’s open, expansive and easily transformed,” says LaChanze of the artistic hub that has welcomed such artists as Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga, Carlos Santana and more.

LaChanze’s impetus to produce the concert and tour the show later this year (visit www.mslachanze.com for future dates) is multi-faceted. Creatively, it is a celebration of her professional and personal life through song, but it is also an opportunity to stay engaged and relevant in a notoriously fickle industry.

LaChanze (Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

LaChanze (Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

“For women in general, and not just women of color, when you become a certain age opportunities narrow. We’re viewed differently than men,” observes LaChanze. “Men have full careers in film and television. Women are often relegated to specific roles — the mom or the girlfriend. This happens across the board and even more for African American women.”

“One of the reasons I’m doing this show is because I don’t want to sit around and wait for the phone to ring,” she continues. “And we’re not a monolith. It’s a wide net that’s cast for a few roles, so I’m telling my own story.” LaChanze brought on director Tamara Tunie

In spite of the challenges, LaChanze continues to be in demand and has been working in television, film and voiceover. Broadway audiences will have to wait until at least 2018 for her return to the Great White Way until her daughter graduates from high school before the seasoned actress is ready to commit again to eight shows a week.

But for now, we’re feeling good knowing that LaChanze

LaChanze – “Feeling Good”
Highline Ballroom
431 West 16th Street
February 27
Doors open at 6 p.m.
Showtime 8 p.m.

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

 

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Illuminating a Blank Page: ‘Sunday in the Park with George’

February 24th, 2017 View Comment(s)
The cast of 'Sunday in the Park with George.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Sunday in the Park with George.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

“White. A blank page or canvas. The challenge: bring order to the whole.”

These words embody the gauntlet thrown down before generations of artists. The opening line of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical, Sunday in the Park with George, resonates deeply in the Broadway revival that christens the historic re-opening of the Hudson Theatre.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as George (both in Act One’s late 19th century setting and as George’s namesake great-grandson in Act Two, set in an American art museum in 1984) and Annaleigh Ashford as his muse Dot, and later, as George’s maternal grandmother, Marie, Sunday in the Park with George remains one of writing team’s most iconic works. More than 30 years since it debuted at Playwrights Horizons and countless productions worldwide, the musical strikes a resonating chord—both in terms of its exploration of the creative (and often obsessive) process of making art, as well as the personal relationships that can crumble in its wake.

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.)

Inspired by George Seurat’s painting, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” Sondheim used the artist’s technique, later named Pointillism, as a musical springboard to create the score. It is filled with staccato punctuations (further accentuated by Gyllenhaal’s delivery) and contrasting lush melodies, which encapsulates the sum on the parts. Michael Starobin’s orchestrations and music direction by Chris Fenwick beautifully capture Sondheim’s work as delivered by a stellar cast of Broadway veterans.

Seurat died at the age of 31 and, at least according to the script, never sold a painting in his lifetime. The tragedy of his artistic tenacity and a world not quite ready to accept his creative gifts is the stuff that great musicals are forged from and it’s no surprise that Sunday in the Park with George won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Director Sarna Lapine mines the material for its wealth of treasures, shedding new light and nuance.

There is a purposefully broken current of electricity between George and Dot, interrupted by his nearly manic artistic pursuits. Gyllenhaal leans heavily into this neurosis, but unlike so many film actors that have stumbled onstage before him, he embodies George’s physical precision all the way through the tip of his imaginary paintbrush. Ashford approaches Dot with flirty mischief. Beautiful as she is, she is able to convince us that she’s less than society’s norms, uneducated and increasingly curvy as she carries George’s bastard child. A Tony Award winner for You Can’t Take it With You and nominee for Kinky Boots, Ashford is adept at interpreting lyrics and Sondheim gives her a full sandbox to play in. Gyllenhaal, too, is not afraid to approach the score with riveting intensity.

Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sunday in the Park with George.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

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

Casting directors Carrie Gardner and Stephen Kopel have assembled a top-notch ensemble to support Gyllenhaal and Ashford, including Penny Fuller as George’s mother (Old Lady) in Act One and Blair, an art critic, in Act 2; and Robert Sean Leonard as Jules, a successful artist in Act One, and Bob Greenberg, a museum director in Act 2. Other recognizable faces include Ruthie Ann Miles (The King and I, Here Lies Love), Brooks Ashmanskas (Bullets Over Broadway) and Jenni Barber (Wicked, Annie).

Act 2, which has often been problematic in past productions, jumps to 1984, where George (Dot’s great-grandson) is struggling with creative blocks after years of success with a series of Chromolume art installations (one of which is brilliantly conceived by lighting designer Ken Billington for a show-stopping moment). Ashford, now in a wheelchair as the aging Marie, captivates with a Charleston drawl that imbues her reflective “Children and Art” with a bluesy, languid warmth that will bring tears to your eyes.

This production of Sunday in the Park with George found footing last year as part of New York City Center’s Encores! series. Its physical presence still feels lean, with a simple set by Beowulf Boritt and projections designed by Tal Yarden. Costume designer Clint Ramos opts for a plain Pantone palette and one wishes Seurat himself could have gotten his hands on the designs to offer as much depth as the production warrants.

For anyone that has questioned the value of his or her creative expression, Sunday in the Park with George will hit a raw nerve. Like Seurat’s masterful paintings, the musical’s beauty is in its ever-changing perspective. “Order. Design. Tension. Balance. Harmony,” says George before the show’s resounding end. On the page, these words appear so simple. But it takes masters like Sondheim and Lapine to bring them to life.

Sunday in the Park with George
Hudson Theatre
139-141 West 44th Street, NYC
Through April 23

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

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Categories: To See or Not To See

Hooked: ‘Fish Men’ at INTAR Theatre

February 22nd, 2017 View Comment(s)

By Ryan Leeds

Jose Joaquin Perez in 'Fish Men.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Jose Joaquin Perez in ‘Fish Men.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Near the end of playwright Cándido Tirado’s well-crafted play Fish Men, one of his characters looks offstage, reflecting on the events that have just occurred. “People are stories,” says Ninety-Two. (Ed Setrakian) “You see them walking down the street, but you’d never know what events have affected their lives.” Indeed, every person in this rich character study is woven together by a painful tapestry of his or her individual pasts, but the results make for a thoughtful and compelling night of theater.

Fish Men, produced by the INTAR Theatre, takes place in New York’s Washington Square park where Cash (Shawn Randall), an over-confident chess hustler is working the cemented outdoor chess boards with John (Gardiner Comfort), his religious, but not terribly bright Russian sidekick. The pair hold court while Jerome (David Anzuelo), an outspoken Native American and passive chess player, and “Ninety-Two” (whose real name we later learn is Adam Kirchbaum) observe the pair and offer disapproving remarks on the way they take advantage of less experienced players.

Gardiner Comfort, Jose Joaquin Perez, Ed Setrakian, and Shawn Randall in 'Fish Men.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Gardiner Comfort, Jose Joaquin Perez, Ed Setrakian, and Shawn Randall in ‘Fish Men.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Cash isn’t particularly fond of being labeled a hustler, preferring instead to don the moniker “Chess professor.” Cash claims “it’s easier to get a doctorate than it is to become a chess grandmaster” and only “plays for money to make things interesting.” He is certainly not wrong on that account. The events become interesting and at times, grave, when a seemingly nerdy player, Rey (Jose Joaquin Perez) walks into their path and plays the game. Once a hustler himself, Rey is there to exact revenge on the pair. A day earlier, Cash and John took his Uncle Bernie for a ride and Rey is hell-bent on getting even.

The burden of revenge is heavy and carried throughout the drama. As layers are peeled, we are made aware of vulnerabilities and resentments that lie under the surface of Tirado’s men.

Rey and Ninety-Two find common ground in being survivors of genocide. For Ninety-Two, it was the Holocaust. Rey, on the other hand, is a survivor of the “forgotten” Guatemalan civil war, which saw the murder of thousands of Mayan people at the hands of government officials. The survivor’s club, as Ninety-Two points out is “Not the best club to be a member of. No application process. Someone else must make you a member against your will.” Still, the elder gentleman has discovered coping mechanisms. The younger Rey is still blood red with anger. Jerome is also a survivor. As a Native American, he laments our country’s history of 18 million exterminations of his ancestors and the differences that divide us.

Shawn Randall and Ed Setrakian in 'Fish Men.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Shawn Randall and Ed Setrakian in ‘Fish Men.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Tirado could easily have turned this into another drama that assuages the guilt of liberal America by teaching and preaching to the choir, but he wisely masks it with natural and often funny dialogue. There is also intensity, particularly in Act II, which moves the story forward like a slick cat and mouse game.

Director Lou Moreno has given his actors plenty of leeway to explore their characters, but still keeps the stakes high and the action laser focused. Raul Abrego’s set, an intimate park re-creation, works perfectly in the cozy theater, as does lighting designer Christopher Cancel-Pomales effective saturations.

At times, the delivery of dialogue could be tighter and occasionally, some lines are difficult to hear. It’s safe to assume however that this accomplished cast will settle into the play as the run progresses. And the title? I must confess that I recoiled when I first read it. Given the prevalent references throughout, however, it makes perfect sense. Tirado’s work, which premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theater (in collaboration with Teatro Vista), makes a most welcome and moving splash Off-Broadway.

Fish Men
INTAR Theatre
500 W. 52nd Street, 4th floor
Through March 18

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

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One Night Only: ‘Tales of the City’ on Broadway

February 21st, 2017 View Comment(s)

Tales of the City

The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center has announced the New York City Broadway premiere of the musical, Tales of the City on March 27, 2017 at the Music Box Theatre. The iconic ensemble story of love, identity, and San Francisco will be presented in a one-night-only benefit concert. With a rocking score by the Grammy-nominated Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears and John Garden, and a book by Tony Award-winner Jeff Whitty, this is first time the vibrant new musical will be seen in New York. All proceeds from the concert will benefit the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and The Trevor Project.

Betsy Wolfe (Photo courtesy of The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.)

Betsy Wolfe (Photo courtesy of The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.)

The concert will feature Betsy Wolfe, Justin Vivian Bond, Armistead Maupin, Jose Llana, Wesley Taylor, Mary Birdsong, Josh Breckenridge, Jeffrey Carlson, Kathleen Monteleone, and Dianne J. Findlay, with additional casting to be announced.

Based on the beloved series of novels by Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City follows a community of friends, lovers, and others who reside at the mythical address of 28 Barbary Lane in 1976 San Francisco. Mary Ann Singleton (Besty Wolfe), a fresh arrival from Ohio, falls into a diverse band of Bohemians and bluebloods, as families are created and rediscovered under the watchful eye of mystical landlady Anna Madrigal (Justin Vivian Bond).

Justin Vivian Bond (Photo courtesy of The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.)

Justin Vivian Bond (Photo courtesy of The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.)

Tales of the City was first developed at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Music Theater Conference in 2009, and had a subsequent run at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco in 2011. The concert will feature many returning cast members from both productions as well as support from the original creative team, including original director Jason Moore and music director/vocal arranger Stephen Oremus. The concert is directed by Travis Greislerand music directed by Cian McCarthy.

“I’m excited to rock the Music Box with this very special show. In 2009, the energy in the O’Neill’s Barn Theater was electric as Tales of the City took its first steps, and we’ll light up New York next month when the musical takes its next step,” stated O’Neill Executive Director Preston Whiteway. “It will be a magical evening, with the words and music of Jeff, Jake, and John, under the watchful guidance of Armistead. I’m grateful to our incredible cast, many of whom are returning to the roles, everyone at Dear Evan Hansen and the Shubert Organization for lending us the theatre, and to the authors and creative team for bringing this piece alive again in support of the O’Neill and The Trevor Project.”

Tickets on sale via Telecharge.com.
Pre-show reception with writers available for premier ticket buyers.  

 

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Categories: The Buzz, VIP Access

But What Are They Saying? ‘Evening at the Talk House’

February 19th, 2017 View Comment(s)

by Ryan Leeds

The cast of 'Evening at The Talk House.' (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Evening at The Talk House.’ (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

Have you ever been caught at a cocktail party with someone who prattles on about people and events and in the middle you think to yourself, “Where are they going with this and what are they even talking about?” The chatty speaker continues the garrulous conversation and assumes that you know exactly who he/she is referencing, but in all honesty, you haven’t a clue. Eventually, you lock into a detached, hypnotic glaze of apathy. Then, your mind drifts to the hors d’oeuvres and as you glance down at your empty glass, you silently pray for the proper moment when you can politely excuse yourself for snacks and a refill.

This is primarily the same response I had at various points throughout playwright and actor Wallace Shawn’s play Evening at the Talk House, the starry Off Broadway offering from The New Group and director Scott Elliott.

Shawn’s blurry examination on the state of theater and morality takes place in what Robert (Matthew Broderick) describes as “the almost-legendary, wonderfully quiet and genteel club, known far and wide at one time for its delicious and generously-sized snacks, some of them pleasantly sautéed, some delightfully freezing cold, all rather charming and unexpected.” The inordinate description could economically be summarized as “an old hangout with good food.” This is just one example of Shawn’s excessive musings, spoken near the top of the show during Robert’s 9-page opening monologue.

Robert and his former colleagues have gathered at The Talk House for a reunion. Ten years prior, Robert wrote “the not-terribly-successful theatrical masterpiece Midnight in a Clearing with Moon and Stars.” Now, they have all come back to their cherished haunt to discuss the show, their pasts, and their socio-political differences. Nellie (Jill Eikenberry) is the warm and caring manager at the now out of fashion club, while Jane (Annapurna Sriram), a once promising actress who starred in Robert’s play, waits tables there. Annette (Claudia Shear) served as the show’s wardrobe supervisor and is currently a freelance tailor. Bill (Michael Tucker) produced the play and has gone on to become a talent agent. Tom (Larry Pine) is Robert’s golden boy who starred in his play and is now a huge television star. The venue location was chosen by Ted (John Epperson), a man whose life led him to compose advertising music. Ted provided the music for Midnight and throughout Evening at the Talk House and lends his beautiful piano skills in a few reflective moments of song. Epperson, who was once the rehearsal pianist for the American Ballet Theater and created the popular female impersonation persona Lypsinka, creates an appropriately reflective and sweet, understated performance.

Matthew Broderick and Annapurna Sriram in 'Evening at The Talk House.' (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

Matthew Broderick and Annapurna Sriram in ‘Evening at The Talk House.’ (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

As patrons enter the theater for Evening at the Talk House, the talented cast is already onstage, mingling with one another and the audience. As we took our seats, my friend leaned over and asked, “Is Wallace Shawn wearing pajamas?” Indeed he was. Shortly thereafter, we learned why from Robert. Shawn’s character, Dick, was once a well-known actor, appearing in Midnight and the hit television series Carlos and Jenny but has become a washed-up, overweight, alcoholic whom people have discounted and/or disposed. Dick has taken up temporary residency in a room above the Talk House and stumbles into the soiree wearing a battered sport coat and loungewear. It becomes clear that the working relationship between Robert and Dick was always strained and neither is particularly thrilled to be in each other’s company.

As the night unfolds, comments are made regarding the lack of plays that are now being produced, the support that is waning for them and a general longing for the way things used to be. In Shawn’s typical writing style, he later drifts into absurdist territory as his characters pose philosophical questions on who should live and who should die. Annette reveals that she earns extra money “targeting,” a practice where lists are reviewed and she “selects the individuals who need to be killed.” Jane is also involved in the practice.

It’s no huge revelation that Shawn would offer commentary on the topic of human extermination. Given his participation in the controversial Jewish Voice for Peace and his pro-Palestinian support, he poses a crucial question about who should decide the value of human life. To that end, I tip my hat. All too often, liberal voices who espouse compassion and love, opt to silence opposition. I applaud his bold choice to portray both sides of the issue. Still, it’s not clear what he is trying to convey: Is Evening at the Talk House about the death of theater or debating the deaths of individuals? In order to make an impact, it should be one or the other and much of the extraneous chatter should be trimmed. As it stands, this is one evening that is still trying to talk its way toward an intellectual bullseye.

Evening at the Talk House
Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street, NYC
Through March 12

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theatre journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

 

 

 

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What You See May Not Be What You Get: ‘Girl X’

February 18th, 2017 View Comment(s)

by Samuel L. Leiter

Sachiro Nomoto in 'Girl X.' (Photo: Ayumi Sakamoto via The Broadway Blog.)

Sachiro Nomoto in ‘Girl X.’ (Photo: Ayumi Sakamoto via The Broadway Blog.)

The advent of texting and e-mails as ways of instant communication has not only changed the nature of human interaction; it’s also become a significant factor in plays and films, where projected or inserted words become part of the performative discourse. Japanese avant-garde writer director Suguru Yamamoto and the theatre collective he founded, Hanchu-Yuei, take this idea to a new level in their offbeat work, Girl X (Yōjo X), presented this weekend at the Japan Society as part of its annual performing arts program. It was performed in English at the Japan Society last spring in a staged reading.

Two expressive young actors, Kazuki Ohashi and Sachiro Nomoto, perform Girl X, which runs an hour, on a bare stage. Upstage is a large screen; at the stage lip is a powerful projector. The two actors, designated 1 and 2 in the script, play several characters, named and unnamed, male and female, without any attempt to alter their voices or behavior as the words the characters speak and send by text are projected, in English and Japanese.

The text sometimes identifies the speaker, and sometimes not. Spoken lines are also projected and an English-speaking audience may be forgiven for occasionally wondering which lines are subtitles to help follow the action and which are there simply to replicate the spoken words, even for Japanese speakers. On several occasions, long passages ensue during which only text is shown and no one speaks. The opening sequence, for example, does this when a baby in the womb begs his mother to end his life before he’s born. Yamamoto has spoken of his fondness of writing not just words to hear, but “words for the eye.”

Kazuki Ohashi and Sachiro Nomoto in 'Girl X' (Photo: Ayumi Sakamoto via The Broadway Blog.)

Kazuki Ohashi and Sachiro Nomoto in ‘Girl X’ (Photo: Ayumi Sakamoto via The Broadway Blog.)

There’s no denying that the projections, often spread across brilliantly colored backgrounds, are artfully designed, using a variety of font styles and sizes; some are still (like numerous Chinese characters for “cry”) and some show movement, including a video of the sea. There also may be geometric forms suggesting a dining table or TV, or a diagram naming characters in a particular scene.

As ominous thrumming plays, the actors, their hair wildly coiffed, appear both singly and together, moving in carefully choreographed patterns that cast their huge, looming shadows on the screen, like grotesque images from an expressionistic nightmare. Actor 1’s movements are made even more threatening by the wooden hammer he wields. In a dining room scene, the actors lie on the floor, placing their feet on the screen on either side of a table image, as if they were being observed from overhead.

Because of the abstract techniques it’s often difficult to follow the narrative or to know who’s speaking at every point. Since there is definitely a narrative, Yamamoto’s methods, interesting as they are, become an end in themselves and do little to clarify the nature of his story. I had to read the script (in a slightly incomplete version) twice, once before the show and once after, to make sure I knew what it was about.

It also doesn’t help matters, even with diagrammatic projections, that Actor 2, in his guise as the younger brother of a married sister, refers throughout to his sister’s ex-boyfriend as the Bacterium, to his mother as the Blood Platelet, to his sister’s little girl as the Red Blood Cell, to himself as the White Blood Cell, and to his sister as the Cut in which those other hematological elements vie for control.

The play, first produced in 2013, is inspired by the unease created in Japan following the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami of 2011. The narrative, though, while filled with disquieting fears and anxieties, ignores that 2011 disaster to track the behavior of a “Man,” played by Actor 1, who was once the boyfriend of a woman named Akemi, now married to a surgeon, with whom she’s the mother of a little girl, Yo-chan. He carries a hammer, counts the “alienation points” he’s accumulating, and is on the lookout for “the enemy.”

Countering him is Ryota, Akemi’s younger brother, played by Actor 2, another lost soul who’s preoccupied with how frizzy his pillow makes his hair, and holds the Man responsible for causing Akemi to slash her wrists (thus his name for her, the Cut). Eventually we learn of a series of rape-murders of little girls, and of the relationship to them of the characters in the story.

Regardless of its dramatic potential, Girl X seems mainly interested in using its narrative to experiment with its unique combination of live action and projected images. While it may be fascinated by the nature of modern communication, that doesn’t prevent it from having communication problems of its own.

Girl X
Japan Society
333 E. 47th St., NYC
Through February 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 (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

 

 

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Categories: Way Off Broadway

Giving Face: Glenn Close’s Return to Broadway in ‘Sunset Boulevard’

February 17th, 2017 View Comment(s)

by Samuel L. Leiter

Glenn Close in 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Talk about star power! No, I’m not referring to Glenn Close, the estimable star of Sunset Boulevard, now in glittery revival at the Palace Theatre. I mean Hillary Clinton, who, the night I attended, brought the house to a roaring, cameras-out, standing ovation as she took her seat just before the show began. Close, despite a fine, if overripe, performance, had to compete with her audience’s divided attention all night.

Partly, this is because the musical adaptation of Sunset Boulevard, based on the classic 1950 Billy Wilder film, is, while generally entertaining, simply not that great. It was first produced with Patti LuPone as Norma Desmond in London in 1993, with Glenn Close (who won the Tony) starring in the 1994 Broadway version (which, despite a nearly two and a half year run, lost a fortune). The current version arrives after premiering at London’s English National Opera, its leads intact.

With book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton (much of the ordinary dialogue is sung as even more ordinary recitative) and score by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the show closely follows the movie’s plot and includes many of its familiar lines. Apart from two aria-like songs displaying Webber at his most lushly melodic and theatrically emotional—“As If We Never Said Goodbye” and “With One Look”—the well-performed score is not particularly memorable. Fortunately, a huge, 40-piece orchestra led by Kirsten Blodgette (one of Broadway’s largest ever we’re told) makes even the more mediocre numbers sound their best.

Michael Xavier and the cast of 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Xavier and the cast of ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Sunset Boulevard, as any film buff knows, tells of onetime, silent screen goddess Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson on screen), 50, her fame a memory, living in the decaying splendor of a Sunset Boulevard mansion with her faithful, bullet-headed, immaculately groomed butler and first husband, Max Mayerling (Fred Johanson; Erich von Stroheim on screen), the former director who made Norma famous.

There the deluded, reclusive, garishly dressed and heavily made-up former star—her fantasies maintained by the ever-looming Max—dreams of her comeback in a spectacular film she’s written about Salomé in which she hopes to star at Paramount under the direction of Cecil B. DeMille (Paul Schoeffler; DeMille himself on screen). When a handsome, flat-broke screenwriter, Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier; William Holden on screen), shows up, desperate for work, she asks for his help on what he recognizes as her awful screenplay. Joe’s status as Norma’s kept man coupled with a budding romance with script reader Betty Schaeffer (Siobhan Dillon) leads to tragic results.

Glenn Close in 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

At the end, the now insane, wild-eyed Norma—garbed outlandishly as a 1920s movie version of Salomé—mistakes the cops and reporters for studio employees as she descends a staircase to deliver her devastating tagline, “And now, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Director Lonny Price’s revival has eliminated much of the fabled grandiosity of the overproduced first production, opting for a more simplified approach within James Noone’s elaborate framework of metal staircases and catwalks, dominated by a remarkable chandelier suggesting a series of drooping teardrops, one above the other.

Supplemented by the brilliant lighting of Mark Henderson, the excellent period costumes of Tracy Christensen (with Anthony Powell doing Close’s strikingly over-the-top ensembles), b/w videos (uncredited) of 1940s Hollywood, and lively choreography by Stephen Mear, this Sunset Boulevard remains visually sumptuous. And let’s not forget the dead-body-in-the-pool effect that opens and closes the show.

For all its exaggerations and Swanson’s larger-than-life performance, Wilder’s film was a darkly cynical, noirish satire on the fickleness of fame and the ruthlessness behind Hollywood’s glamorous exterior. Except for rare moments, Price’s staging, in a fatal mistake, fails to capture the darkness, being surprisingly upbeat, paced at machine-gun speed, and with only scattered moments of the needed gothic anxiety demanded by the story.

Xavier’s Joe, tall and hunky (body worshipers will appreciate his swimsuit scene), comes off more like a James Stewart-like boy-next-door than a down-on-his-luck skeptic. Johansen’s Max, physically imposing with a gifted baritone voice, is too overbearing and lacks the necessary subtle menace. Dillon plays Betty, the formulaic ingénue, according to formula.

Close, nearly 70 but playing 50, inspires thoughts regarding similarities between herself and Norma. Her pitchy singing voice is not Broadway’s best, but her acting is strong enough, even within the deliberately broad, almost grotesque, theatricality she adopts (even Swanson’s own campiness doesn’t compare) to jerk tears when she launches into “With One Look.” But the emphasis on her exaggerations takes the show too far from its deeper implications.

This revival of Sunset Boulevard is smart to have pared down its visual excesses. The darkness it evokes, though, is more in its lighting than in the world it creates. Which is not so smart.

Sunset Boulevard
Palace Theatre
1564 Broadway, NYC
Through June 25

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: To See or Not To See