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Three to See: September

September 1st, 2016 Comments off

Broadway is slowing coming out of its summer hibernation, but our eyes are wandering toward Off Broadway and beyond for our top picks of the month.

MCC All the Ways to Say I Love YouAll the Ways to Say I Love You
An unconventional triple threat conspires for one of the most anticipated plays of the fall: Neil LaBute’s All the Ways to Say I Love You.

Starring the formidable Judith Light under the direction of Leigh Silverman, the play follows high school English teacher and guidance counselor Mrs. Johnson. As she recounts her experiences with a favored student from her past, Mrs. Johnson slowly reveals the truth that is hidden just beneath the surface details of her life. The solo play about “love, hard choices, and the cost of fulfilling an all-consuming desire.”

All the Ways to Say I Love You
MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel
121 Christopher Street
Previews begin September 6

Marie and Rosetta Atlantic TheaterMarie and Rosetta
Before there was Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner, there was Sister Rosetta Tharpe. A legend in her time, she brought fierce guitar playing and swing to gospel music. Tharpe was the queen of ‘race records’ in the 30’s and 40’s, performed mornings at churches and evenings at the Cotton Club. She filled a baseball stadium for her (third) wedding yet ended up in an unmarked grave in Philadelphia.

The play chronicles her first rehearsal with a young protégée, Marie Knight, as they prepare to embark on a tour that would establish them as one of the great duet teams in musical history.

Marie and Rosetta
Atlantic Theater
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th Stret
Opening night: September 12

verso off broadwayVerso
“We’ve got magic to do just for you…” No, it’s not Pippin. Instead, Neil Patrick Harris directs Helder Guimarães in a contemporary magic show likely to bewilder and amaze audiences. Bear witness as he pushes the very limits of magic, and challenges just how much you’re willing to accept what your eyes assume to be true.

Verso
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street
Opening night: September 28

 

Review: “The Threepenny Opera” at Atlantic Theater Company

April 13th, 2014 Comments off
Michael Park and Laura Osnes in "The Threepenny Opera". Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia.

Michael Park and Laura Osnes in “The Threepenny Opera”. Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia.

Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera is easily one of the 20th Century’s most influential and popular works of musical theater — a debauched tale of criminal double-crossing unleashed when a crime kingpin (Mack the Knife) runs off with the daughter of crooked merchant. Its popularity is particularly shocking when you consider that it features a murderer’s row of dissolute characters, overtly political attacks and songs that intrude on the action with bruising willfulness. Then again, when you know you can get home safely afterward, who doesn’t like to spend some quality time hanging out with the bad boys?

Sally Murphy in "The Threepenny Opera". Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia.

Sally Murphy in “The Threepenny Opera”. Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia.

The good news about the stylish and stripped down (literally and figuratively) production currently at the Atlantic Theater and directed by famed director-choreographer Martha Clarke (Pilobolus Dance) is that you’re unlikely to find another version enacted with such clarity. Every cynical word and unexpected note is presented with admirable musicality and precision, so much so that I felt I was hearing many things for the first time. The diction slices and dices the equally razor-sharp wit of Marc Blitzstein’s 1954 English adaptation. The cast and band shape the songs with obvious care, the crackling vamps and lyrical phrasing bursting with energy (and planting the seedy seeds for many a Kander and Ebb to come.) I found my ears tickled time and again.

Unfortunately, it is this same precision that seems to get in the way of the more earthy pleasures of the show. For a piece that thumbs its nose at theatrical conventions and is populated by thugs, whores and corrupt cops, there isn’t much danger here. The cast is uniformly solid but surprisingly scrubbed and safe. I expected to feel a bit under attack, like these actors might leap into the audience and steal my wallet, but instead the only thing I worried about was whether Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham was forgetting his lines or just playing with the audience. The stage pictures are elegant, a German expressionist painting come to life and draped with half-naked bodies and bold silent movie shadows, but they don’t always do much to up the dramatic stakes or get at the piece’s pugnacious humor (a delightfully distracting appearance by a bulldog notwithstanding).

Mary Beth Peil and F. Murray Abraham in "The Threepenny Opera". Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia.

Mary Beth Peil and F. Murray Abraham in “The Threepenny Opera”. Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia.

The women of the cast fair best. Sally Murphy (August: Osage County) makes a compelling Jenny, singing the justifiably famous “Pirate Jenny” with raw emotional transparency and darting around the edges of the production with a real sense of a life of abuse. Recent Tony-nominee Laura Osnes (Cinderella) once again proves the depth of her musical chops, handling Polly’s tricky vocal lines with seductive ease. NYC stage veteran Mary Beth Peil and Lilli Cooper (Spring Awakening) provide sparks of salacious humor as Mrs. Peacham and Lucy Brown.

In the end, I’m glad I had the chance to experience this classic book and score in a production featuring such talented and studious interpreters; I came out of the show with a newfound appreciation for the work. But if you’re looking for a Threepenny that draws blood—and then makes you ask for more—this production falls short.

The Threepenny Opera
Linda Gross Theater (336 West 20th Street)
Through May 4