Friday, November 8, 2019

TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL Boasts A Spectacular Performance by Adrienne Warren


All I can say is WOW!  



















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Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current Broadway and Off Broadway plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics and theatergoers.  

Friday, September 6, 2019

DUST: Harrowing Play About a Young Woman’s Death By Suicide and the Aftermath

Milly Thomas Stars in her Play, DUST
Photo by Emilio Madrid-Kuser



I don't want you to be gobsmacked if you should happen to wander unprepared into the intimate Next Door @NYTW theater space in New York City's East Village, where Milly Thomas's discomfiting play Dust opened last night. So before I get into talking about the quality of the writing and of the solo performance by its creator (both are stunning, in every sense of the word), I feel it is important to let you know that the subject matter is inherently disturbing. It is about a young woman who has taken her own life. 

To be sure, there have been many other plays in which there is a suicide as part of the plot. From Ophelia's death in Hamlet to Connor Murphy's death in Dear Evan Hansen, we learn of their passing as recounted by others. But with Dustwritten and acted by London-based writer and performer Milly Thomas, we spend an uninterrupted 75 minutes with a young woman named Alice who is already dead by her own hand when the play opens.   

Dust begins with a deep and ominous thrumming sound, a flashing of lights, and a jolting bang. Then Ms. Thomas,  dressed in a body stocking, enters and stands beside a metal clinical table looking down at a corpse -- her  corpse, as it happens.  "I think this is the end," she says. But apparently it is not -- at least, not yet.  

She lingers over the preparation of her body, fascinated yet a little perturbed about what the morticians are doing to her, before leaving in order to eavesdrop on her family and friends. You might think of Emily from Our Town, but it's not quite in that realm. For one thing, Alice is quite a bit more egocentric, and she observes everyone else -- her parents, her aunt, her brother, her boyfriend, and her closest friend -- with a jaundiced eye.

She can be bitingly sarcastic and judgmental in her appraisal of their behavior in the time before and during her funeral. And she is quite intrusive on their private conversations and personal activities, including sexual ones which she is happy to describe in graphic terms. It's as if she were saying, how dare they get on with their own lives!

The one thing she doesn't talk about much, however, is her own state of mind that led her to take her life. Only in bits and pieces do we grow to understand that she had long suffered from depression, and that the various treatments (she provides a long list of medications) were not effective. If there is any comfort to be found, it is in our coming to grips with the realization that suicide was a supreme act of will for Alice, the sole action over which she had control in a life that was irredeemably out of control.    

Milly Thomas has written and performs Dust with a great depth of understanding of Alice's plight. She paints an unflinching portrait both of someone whose unfixable pain lacks an identifiable source and of a young woman who in life undoubtedly made it difficult for others to be around her. It is a remarkably powerful play, and Ms. Thomas performs with unflinching surgical precision. Whether this is enough to get you past the subject matter is something I will leave to you to decide.  







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Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current Broadway and Off Broadway plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics and theatergoers.  



  

Sunday, May 26, 2019

OUTER CRITICS CIRCLE 2019 Awards Event at Sardis





I had a blast at the 69th annual Outer Critics Circle Awards Dinner at Sardi's this week. This gathering of theater critics, actors, directors, writers, designers, and producers is so much fun because the winners are announced ahead of time. (For the complete list of winners, link HERE). This does away with the stress of competition and turns it into a truly festive occasion. 

We sat at round tables of 10 and enjoyed a meal together, so there was plenty of opportunity for relaxed conversation during the three-hour event.  




Benjamin Walker
Photo by Howard Miller
Seated to my right was Benjamin Walker, who won the Best Featured Actor Award for his outstanding performance in the brilliant revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons. Previously, he starred in two cheeky musicals on Broadway -- Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and American Psycho -- both of which had him playing outsized, outlandish characters. I was happy to tell him how wonderful it was to see him doing such stellar work as a complex realistic character and for getting deservedly recognized during this awards season. I'm betting there's a Tony lying in wait for him as well.






Warren Carlyle
Photo by Howard Miller





I also had a nice chat with a another guest at my table, choreographer and OCC Award winner Warren Carlyle, about the fantastic work he has done with the wow of a revival of Kiss Me, Kate! He is someone else I predict will win a Tony on June 9. 
   




  


* * * * * * * * * * *


Taking home a slew of OCC awards was the Broadway musical Hadestown, the grand and glorious retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Euridice. Among those on hand were its creator Anaïs Mitchell, its director Rachel Chavkin, and two of its winning performers, Amber Gray (Persephone) and André De Shields (Hermes).





Anaïs Mitchell
Photo by Howard Miller







Rachel Chavkin
Photo by Howard Miller


























Amber Gray
Photo by Howard Miller
André De Shields
Photo by Howard Miller












































* * * * * * * * * * * *





And here are some of the other notable guests:




Joel Grey
Photo by Howard Miller
Joel Grey in Cabaret






Joel Grey has been performing and directing since the 1940s.  He is perhaps best known for his portrayal of the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret. But he is still going strong as director of the highly acclaimed Yiddish language production of Fiddler on the Roof, which won the OCC award for Best Musical Revival, against the likes of Kiss Me, Kate! and Oklahoma!






Bob Mackie
Photo by Howard Miller

Bob Mackiethe OCC-winning costume designer for Broadway's The Cher Show, is another iconic figure, perhaps best known for the consistently inventive work he did for Carol Burnett's television variety show. Remember the dress she wore for the spoof of Gone With The Wind, the one with the curtain rod stuck in the material? That was Mackie's.  






Stephanie J. Block
Photo by Howard Miller


And speaking of 
The Cher Show, accepting her OCC Award for Best Actress in a Musical was Stephanie J. Block, who absolutely owns the stage as "Star" Cher.   









John Cullum
Photo by Howard Miller




Also in attendance was another  terrific actor with a long and illustrious career on Broadway, John Cullum, whose resumé includes Shenandoah, On the Twentieth Century, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, The Scottsboro Boys, and my favorite, Urinetown.  













And more!


Celia Kennan-Bolger
Best Supporting Actress,
To Kill A Mockingbird
Photo by Howard Miller
Santino Fontana
Best Actor in a Musical
Tootsie
Photo by Howard Miller






Bryan Cranston, Best Actor in a Play
Network
Photo by Howard Miller
Mike Birbiglia,
Best Solo Performance
The New One
Photo by Howard Miller











Sydney Beers,
Roundabout Theater Company's
General Manager.
One of my vivacious table guests
shown here with the table's
centerpiece King Kong doll
(Clearly love at first sight!)
Photo by Howard Miller
Avenue Q's 'Lucy the Slut'
One of the event's guest presenters
Photo by Howard Miller




Kudos to all of the winners, special guests, and to the hard working OCC leadership team for this truly memorable and thoroughly fun event.  May the new theater season be as rewarding!




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Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current Broadway and Off Broadway plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics. 



Tuesday, May 21, 2019

HAPPY TALK: The Three Faces of Susan Sarandon





If you are familiar with Jesse Eisenberg, it's most likely to be from his acting career, with notable performances in such films as The Social Network in which he played Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.  But Eisenberg has also established himself as a writer, with pieces published in The New Yorker magazine, a collection of short stories, an upcoming novel, and several plays to his credit.

He himself does not appear in his latest play, Happy Talk, but the kind of irritatingly self-important, damaged and damaging character that has become a trademark for him lies at its heart, as directed by Scott Elliott for The New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center. 

The off-kilter character in this case is called Lorraine, played here by Susan Sarandon, someone who has a reputation for getting under people's skin herself through her outspoken and uncompromising political activism. Not unlike the woman portraying her, Lorraine comes off as self-defined, self-certain, and complicated.  

It seems at first glimpse as though we might be embarking on a sitcom filled with familiar types. Lorraine appears to be an egotistical suburban matron and community theater goddess, who turns every situation into a grand drama with her in the spotlight.  She is currently in rehearsals for the local Jewish Community Center production of South Pacific, in which she most absurdly will be playing the role of Bloody Mary.  If you've seen The Prom on Broadway, Lorraine may remind you of Beth Leavel's character.  

Her husband (Daniel Oreskes) seems to be a familiar type as well, a grumpy man who ensconces himself into his easy chair and occasionally grunts at his wife but mostly ignores her. There is also Lorraine's mother, a bedridden invalid whom we never meet and who is looked after by the play's other significant character, a chirpy and cheery Serbian illegal immigrant named Ljuba, marvelously played by Marin Ireland.


Marin Ireland and Susan Sarandon
Photo by Monique Carboni


Even though the play is written to be performed straight through its running time of 100 minutes, it does seem that it is divided into three separate acts. Anything I add by way of plot reveal here would be a spoiler, so I will simply say that in each of the acts, our sympathies are manipulated in a different way as we try to decide how we feel about Lorraine. It is all dependent on which side of her personality or piece of her life is shared with us at the time.  

This does make the play feel rather bumpy.  It's as if you were trying to climb down the side of a steep mountain and you keep coming to spots where you have to let yourself drop for some distance to the next ledge. The play has been criticized for these variations on Lorraine's personality, but I find in retrospect that it gives us a richer portrait of a messy, complex character than we might otherwise get.  

In the end, we may decide that Lorraine is "toxic," as her estranged daughter Jenny (Tedra Millan), who puts in a brief and unpleasant appearance, describes her. But we learn enough to at least begin to understand Lorraine, even if we would not want to have anything more to do with her than what she would actually want us to:  watching her play Bloody Mary onstage. That is the only place where she finds a sense of purpose and satisfaction and where she can escape her otherwise disappointing life.  

Admittedly, Happy Talk feels like it is a draft or two away from completion. But Susan Sarandon and Marin Ireland, as well as the rest of the cast (which includes Nico Santos as one of Lorraine's theater colleagues) make it well worth the visit.  




Daniel Oreskes, Susan Sarandon, and Nico Santos
Photo by Monique Carboni





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Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current Broadway and Off Broadway plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics. 





Sunday, May 19, 2019

PREDICTING THE 2019 TONYS: My Final List



Who will win the 2019 Tony Awards?   

When it comes to Tony predictions, it is not necessarily advantageous to have seen every show and to have analyzed and critiqued most of them during the course of a season.  We all bring our personal preferences and prejudices to the task of judging how "good" a play or musical is, and these subjective perspectives undoubtedly color our predictions.

The same can be said of the Tony voters, who are not typical theatergoers any more than the critics are. They bring to the decision-making process factors such as how well they think a show will do outside of New York, either in an immediate follow-up tour or over the long run. In addition, most Tony voters have friends and colleagues in the business, and these connections also factor into their voting. And, of course, while they may not be typical theatergoers, they are still theatergoers. They have their likes and dislikes the same as everyone else.

So, assuming you've been following the Broadway theater scene, I can honestly say that your guess is as good as mine.    
Still, and for whatever it is worth, I am happy to share my own predictions with you.



Recapping

These are the categories I wrote about in previous blog entries.  The predictions I have already made are 


Best New Musical Hadestown

Best New Play:  The Ferryman

Best Musical Revival:  Oklahoma!

Best Play Revival:  All My Sons

Best Actor in a Musical:  Santino Fontana, Tootsie

Best Actress in a Musical:  Beth Leavel, The Prom

Best Featured Male Actor in a Musical:  André De Shields, Hadestown

Best Featured Actress in a Musical:  Ali Stroker, Oklahoma!

Best Actor in a Play:  Bryan Cranston, Network

Best Actress in a Play:  Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery

Best Featured Actor in a Play: Benjamin Walker, All My Sons

Best Featured Actress in a Play: Celia Kennan-Bolger, To Kill A Mockingbird


And here are my predictions for the rest of the categories


Best Director of a Musical:  Rachel Chavkin for Hadestown

Best Choreographer:  Warren Carlyle for Kiss Me, Kate!

Best Book of a Musical:  Robert Horn for Tootsie

Best Original Score: Anaïs Mitchell for Hadestown

Best Orchestrations: Daniel Kluger for Oklahoma!

Best Costume Design for a Musical:  Bob Mackie for The Cher Show

Best Lighting Design for a Musical:  Peter Mumford for King Kong

Best Scenic Design for a Musical:  Kenneth Posner for Beetlejuice

Best Sound Design for a Musical:  Peter Hylenski for King Kong

Best Director of a Play: Sam Mendes for The Ferryman

Best Costume Design for a Play:  Ann Roth for Gary

Best Lighting Design for a Play:  Peter Mumford for The Ferryman

Best Scenic Design for a Play:  Jan Verseyveld for Network

Best Sound Design for a Play:  Eric Sleichim for Network



How accurate are these predictions?  We will all find out together on June 9, when James Corden will host the 2019 Tony Awards show on CBS.  The envelope, please!


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Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics. I saw all and reviewed almost all of the Broadway plays identified here, so if you want more information, you know where to go.  


Thursday, May 16, 2019

CLOSE LOOK at Tony Nominees for Best Performance in a Play. Who Will Win Among The Men?

Who will take home the Tony for Best Actor and Best Featured Actor in a play?  Let's take a look at my predictions. 



The Nominees for Best Actor in a Play












Adam Driver gives a thrillingly unconstrained performance in the revival of Lanford Wilson's 1987 play, Burn This.  The play itself is overburdened with awkward and vague exposition, and the production is less than stellar, but Driver is a WOW!  Still, I think the Tony lies elsewhere. Keep reading.













Jeremy Pope has been rightly nominated for two stellar performances, this one for Choir Boy and a second for his performance in the musical Ain't Too Proud.  I'd love to see him win for one or both, but I am predicting no Tony this time.  Read on. 










Jeff Daniels is doing a beautiful job with his portrayal of Atticus Finch in the wildly successful and popular adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird.  Yet I do not see the Tony landing here.  Keep going. 













Paddy Considine led the cast of The Ferryman, the gloriously sprawling family drama that I believe will pick up the Best New Play Tony.  Yet, narrowing it down to a single winner, I think the Best Acting Tony will go elsewhere.  Read on. 







And the winner.  I predict this will be Bryan Cranston's second Tony win.  He earned his first for his portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson in 2014, and he is most likely to win this time for his truly remarkable performance as the mentally unbalanced TV news anchor Howard Beale in the stage adaptation of Network







The Nominees for Best Featured Actor in a Play















Brandon Uranowitz makes the most of a poorly delineated role as the gay roommate of the female lead in Burn This. But I do not foresee a Tony. Read on. 












Robin De Jesús gave an outstanding performance in the revival of The Boys in the Band last summer, but I do not believe this is one that will reward him with the Tony.  Still, let me put in a plug for Netflix's upcoming adaptation of the play that will keep the entire cast intact. Tony or not, be looking for it.  And do keep reading. 











Bertie Carvel is giving a top-notch performance as an ambitious newspaper editor in the British import, Ink. But I believe the Tony will go elsewhere.  Keep on reading. 













Gideon Glick delivers charm and adorableness by the barrel load in To Kill A Mockingbird. Yet I think the Tony will go elsewhere.  Read on. 




Benjamin Walker is giving a truly Tony-worthy performance in All My Sons.  If you know him from the cartoonish Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson or American Psycho, you will discover that in the Arthur Miller play, he is finally allowed to sink his teeth into a flesh-and-blood role. I predict he will be the Tony winner. 





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Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics. I saw all and reviewed almost all of the Broadway plays identified here, so if you want more information, you know where to go.