Oscar E Moore

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THE LIGHTNING THIEF – a misfit on Broadway strikes out

November 1st, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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I survived the matinee performance on October 30th, 2019.  Barely.  Resulting in what was called in the 60’s – an Excedrin Headache Number so and so.  It is deafening loud.  So loud that one cannot distinguish one word from another.  The sound mixer must have abandoned his board.

Balance between the instantly forgettable music (Rob Rokicki) and the screeching singers is non-existent.  You will get snippets of dialogue every now and then.  Forget the lyrics (Rob Rokicki).  I seriously thought of writing this review IN ALL CAPS to overpower the noise battle still echoing in my head.

For many reasons this young adult, tween, teenybopper musical THE LIGHTNING THIEF, the Percy Jackson musical simply should have stayed off-Broadway or continued on its lucrative tour across America – maybe not even that.

First and foremost, the astronomical cost of tickets.   Off-Broadway the TheaterWorksUSA production was a trim one hour and FREE.  The bloated, bare bones show now at The Longacre Theatre runs over two hours with a top price of almost two hundred dollars each.

Coming in at a close second is the hawking of water (SIX DOLLARS) and candies (FIVE DOLLARS) before the show starts.  A circus sideshow in itself.

The hawker, with his patience waning, told the rambunctious kids that the high prices were due to capitalism.  Did they get it?  Whatever.  I found it criminal.

Even more confusing is the Olympian convoluted plot that follows – engaging the cast of seven to spread themselves way too thin playing gods and demi-gods and humans as Percy (Chris McCarrell) looking like a young Michael Urie without his requisite charisma is expelled from school in this Mythology 101 chock-full-of-characters surrounded by noise, flashing lights, frenetic sword fights, falling confetti and toilet paper being blown in our faces.  Throw in a trip to Hades and to California; add an informative squirrel into the mix and you’ve got an Excedrin Headache.  Lucky Medusa gets her head chopped off.

Perhaps this Poseidon disaster can be partially explained by the fact that the director (Stephen Brackett) book writer (Joe Tracz) Ryan Rumery (sound designer) and Vocal Coach (Amanda Flynn) were also responsible for that short-lived BE MORE CHILL similar looking and sounding show that evaporated quickly on Broadway not so long ago.

Under all this over-the-top business lurks a story of sorts.  One that isn’t new at all.  These poor kids are angst ridden.  Even as demi-gods.  Parents absent.  The gods just have too many kids!  Feeling that they don’t belong.  Not feeling normal.  Until we are told “normal is a myth.”  Perhaps better parenting is the answer.  Not expensive substitutes.

There is one bright spot however, that saved the day for me.  Ryan Knowles making his Broadway debut.  Playing a variety of roles including Chiron (a centaur) to the max.  That’s a good max.  With his terrific voice and diction nary a word was missed.  Great comedic timing.  And believable in this mythological frenetic fantasy.

Sad to say the theater was a sea of empty seats.  THE LIGHTNING THIEF is supposed to run through January 5th.  But that could just be another myth.

www.lightningthiefmusical.com

Photos:  Jeremy Daniel

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

www.TWUSA.org

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THE ROSE TATTOO – a leaning tower of votive candles and the big banana

October 26th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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Director Trip Cullman has taken it upon himself to turn Tennessee Williams slight 1950 romantic-comedy into a Sicilian commedia dell’arte, Fellini inspired burlesque show.  Thickening the atmosphere is occasional not unpleasant guitar music and vocals.

There is nothing subtle about this Roundabout production at the American Airlines Theatre where true to its name the seats are as uncomfortable as those when one flies.

But I digress.  There is a flock of pink plastic flamingos that share the stage with its main draw – Marisa Tomei – who awaits the return of her handsome, hunky and supposedly hung husband, Rosario.  He hauls bananas.  He has a rose tattoo on his chest.  They have sex nightly.

However, underneath the bananas are drugs.  This is to be his last trip.  As indeed it is.  Serafina becomes a widow that very night.  Three years later she is a mess.  She has discovered her Rosario has been with other women.  One in particular, The Lady in White Estelle Hohengarten (Tina Benko) with an over-the-top Southern draaaawl.

Serafina is now a loner.  A sexually frustrated woman who wants her daughter to be exactly like her.  When Rosa dates a sailor named Jack (Burke Swanson) who unfortunately comes across as Gomer Pyle – she has him swear to not have intimate relations with her 15 year old daughter.

With a projected panoramic seascape; with its soft waves gently caressing the Gulf Coast – somewhere between New Orleans and Mobile, 1950, phallic symbols abound.  The telegraph pole.  The gigantic palm tree.  The infamous bananas.  All on a bed of sand.  Along with her bare bones living quarters.  The set by Mark Wendland doesn’t quite work.

THE ROSE TATTOO, when first produced in 1951, must have raised a few eyebrows with its sexual innuendos juxtaposed with the religious Sicilian community where Serafina Delle Rose (Marisa Tomei) – a seamstress raising her daughter Rosa (Ella Rubin) who is on the cusp of discovering her own sexuality prays intently to Our Lady for omens and signs with the ashes of Rosario in an urn along with the tower of votive candles.

It is a large cast with the neighboring chorus of women dressed in black, children scurrying hither and yon, clients looking for their garments.  If you survive the melodramatic Act I you will suddenly find yourself in I LOVE LUCY land in Act II.

Where mild laughs become guffaws as Serafina meets her new banana man.  Emun Elliott as Alvaro Mangiacavallo – loosely translated as “eat the horse.” To Serafina’s delight he is Rosario reincarnated – with her husband’s body and the face of a clown.  A French Sex Farce ensues.  With Italian accents and over the top hand gestures to swat away imaginary flies.

They go for broke in the sex department.  And most of the audience eats this up.  They want their money’s worth and they get it.  All at the expense of the play that could and should have some heart and bittersweet tenderness.  All absent.  Only the daughter Rosa brings some sincerity to her role.

If you want a wild evening, with stereotypical characters and outlandish performances THE ROSE TATTOO might be the answer.  Through December 8.  2 hours 30 minutes – one intermission

www.roundabouttheatre.org

Photos:  Joan Marcus

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

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THE SOUND INSIDE – ONLY through January 12, 2020 DO NOT MISS IT

October 19th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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We sometimes, more often than we would like, wonder the why and how certain shows make it to Broadway.  Transferring a small intimate production into a much too large commercial space more often than not does not work.  But with the right director and the right actors and the right creative team – not to worry.

As is the case with the superb, fresh, new, original, compelling, mysterious, intriguing 90 minute two character play by Adam Rapp that has just opened at Studio 54.  Incredibly it works beautifully under the astute and careful direction of David Cromer, himself a fine actor.  He knows how to coach and direct and lead actors to the heights.  He is a master and his work on THE SOUND INSIDE simply proves it.

This production is chock full of unexpectedness.  And that is a very good thing.  A pleasure to hear the educated thoughts and words – serious and darkly humorous – of playwright Adam Rapp spoken aloud – as an extraordinary Mary-Louise Parker as Bella Baird narrates this suspenseful Hitchcockian tale both in the present and past tense.

After all she is a writer.  A successful writer who now teaches in an Ivy League school.  Writing notes on a pad as she thinks of just the right words for…who knows?

David Cromer has picked up on this aspect and visually brings this concept to vivid life.  It’s almost like hearing an audio book – live on stage.  This happened and then it does as dialogue takes over in the present.  It’s a fascinating concept that might confuse some audience members.  Just go with it and you will be justly rewarded.

Bella is 53.  A loner.  She loves books.  Loves words.  And teaching.  She has cancer.  Barging into her office – without the usual necessary appointment arrives Christopher.  He is a freshman who wants to write and needs to connect with Bella.  He is brash.  He doesn’t follow protocol.  But likeable and strange and aloof and testy.  You can’t help but pay attention to him.

His name is Will Hochman, making his Broadway debut as Christopher.  He will have an important career.  In the words of David Cromer – Will Hochman is “compelling, fascinating and strange.”  That’s why this relatively unknown actor has made it to Broadway with the already established Mary-Louise Parker who has met her match in THE SOUND INSIDE.

Many famous authors are discussed as their relationship develops, as he writes his novella and she mentors Chris.  The foremost is Dostoevsky and his classic Crime and Punishment.

Bella has decided that she wants to end her life, her way.  And askes Chris to assist her in administering the three drugs necessary to accomplish this.  In a quid pro quo he asks her to honestly read and evaluate his manuscript.  She accepts and what follows is why we go to the theater.

Please do not miss this riveting and emotional production.  Mr. Cromer has collected a fine creative team to enhance his vision:  Alexander Woodward (scenic design) David Hyman (costume design) Heather Gilbert (lighting design) Daniel Kluger (music and sound) and Aaron Rhyne (projection design) – Everyone should be remembered at award time.

And last but not least, be there to say that you saw Will Hochman in his auspicious Broadway debut.

www.soundinsidebroadway.com

NOT a Roundabout production

Photos:  Jeremy Daniel

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

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SLAVE PLAY – a pseudo-intellectual sexual exercise in power or who’s on top?

October 15th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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The flavor of the moment on Broadway appears to be controversial playwright Jeremy O. Harris who along with director Robert O’Hara have been anointed masters of “pushing the envelope” when it comes to SLAVE PLAY – a fantasia of sorts.  Part porn.  Part psycho-babble.  Part satire.

And satire, to paraphrase George S. Kaufman –“is what closes on Saturday night.”  If you get too intellectual thinking, people tune out.  But not when, as in this case, blatant, off the wall kinky sex acts are portrayed that are once again in the all too capable hands of Claire Warden – intimacy and fight director.

The envelope starts being pushed as we enter the Golden Theatre as loud, irritating music is assaulting our ears.  Could that be a calliope?  Whatever, it continues on as we sit staring at ourselves staring back at us in the full-across-the-stage mirrored panels that also reflects a panoramic view of the McGregor Plantation where the action – and I do mean action in the sexual sense takes place – in “the Old South” where Master and Slave have their well-defined positions in place.

Then our bladders start to thinking too much about the length of SLAVE PLAY.  Two hours plus WITHOUT AN INTERMISSION.  Be forewarned!

The final push comes when well into the first part of a three part construction we wonder what the hell is going on.  Dressed in appropriate antebellum costumes three pair of lovers cavort as they are introduced separately.  How brave these fine actors are.

Behind the mirrored door number three emerges Jim (Paul Alexander Nolan – bravest of all) whip in hand to oversee Kaneisha, the black woman sweeping up (Joaquina Kalukango).  Mistreating her and humiliating her after she unexpectedly goes into some native dance that has aroused Jim he forces her to eat a watermelon that is a cantaloupe and then…

Behind the mirrored door number two, center stage, emerges a four poster bed with its mistress in full antebellum hoop skirt Alana (Annie McNamara – the nuttiest) and her tall dark and handsome servant Phillip (Sullivan Jones).  She is older and hot to trot.  She drops her hoops to reveal a leather dominatrix outfit and after some foreplay with his violin takes charge and has her way with Phillip from the rear with a large black dildo – that has been passed down from generation to generation by its white ladies – its owners, keepers and users…

Last but not least we meet Dustin (James Cusati-Moyer) – a white indentured servant working on bales of cotton.  Not for long.  Gary enters from door number one.  He is black.  Both are handsome and in great physical shape.  We soon learn who is in charge in this duo soon after they have had a strip/fight/game foreplay scene (where we notice Calvin Klein on his undies) Dustin is forced to lick the boots of Gary as…

Back to Jim and Kaneisha who in the midst of a sexual climax he yells STARBUCKS! (another product placement?) – as two new characters – Tea (Chalia La Tour) with lengthy dreadlocks and Patricia (Irene Sofia Lucio) her white counterpart – interrupt and proclaim that it would be good to have a break here and come back in ten or so minutes.  No such luck.  No intermission.

Now all of the above is greatly acted and quite amusing in a deranged sort of way if that is what turns you on or off as the case may be.

In part two – an all too long meditation on what we have seen and what it all means we discover that these people have been for four days involved in a “Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy” session “to help black partners reengage intimately with white partners from whom they no longer receive sexual pleasure.”  I found the two in charge who are also a gay couple have just as many issues as the participants and they are looked at in a most satirical manner so we do not take them too seriously.  Harris defeats his own intentions here.

Jim reverts to his original British accent.  An Obsessive Compulsive Disorder victim Kaneisha is mostly quiet.  We learn about all the participants.  Alana refers to her notes.  Phillip is still handsome and low key.  Dustin is an actor and has a terrific monologue.  His lover Gary sulks.

The two psychologists Tea (Oprah for me) and Patricia (Dr. Ruth to me) go on and on and recap and reaffirm and hand out tissues when needed.  We get it.  We hear you.  No need to repeat and repeat.  It is here that the bladder starts to act up as we lose interest.  I will cut to the chase as this is far too long already.

In part three we return to Jim and Kaneisha.  The mirrors have been reconfigured so that we can see front, behind and above. Jim in all his naked glory as he rapes Kaneisha.

And so SLAVE PLAY ends.  To recap…No I won’t do that to you.  If interested you have until January 19, 2020

www.slaveplaybroadway.com

Photos:  Matthew Murphy

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THE GREAT SOCIETY – LBJ part 2 – Politics as usual

October 14th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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Just the facts, Ma’am.  Just the facts.  A misquoted phrase from the 1950’s TV show Dragnet that swept the nation, is unfortunately what playwright Robert Schenkkan delivers in his follow up quasi documentary to ALL THE WAY (2014) that starred Bryan Cranston about Lyndon Baines Johnson – 36th President of the United States.  That production was wonderful as directed by Bill Rauch.  Not so with THE GREAT SOCIETY, starring Brian Cox also directed by Mr. Rauch.  With a set looking very much the same.

What one might take away from this almost three hour production (thankfully one intermission) besides a numbing headache is that not much has changed in Washington D.C. since LBJ was running and/or ruining our country.  It’s politics as usual.

Attempting to get bills passed.  International vs. Domestic issues.  Behind closed doors negotiations and deals.  Schmoozing.  War.  Medicare.  Voting.  Blacks vs. Whites.  Discrimination.  And the list goes on.  Blah, blah, blah.  As does Mr. Schenkkan.

There is just too much of everything to digest.  When one actor portrays four or five characters with just a change of wig or jacket or voice, confusion takes over.  THE GREAT SOCIETY becomes a play about exits and entrances between the avalanche of details and facts.  It’s numbing, resulting in that we give up on caring about the participants.  At least I did.

The arena-like set (David Korins) utilizes video screens and projections (Victoria Sagady) that at times either add or detract from the story.  LBJ’s story.  Brian Cox is not Bryan Cranston who we believed wholeheartedly as LBJ.  Charming, charismatic, and cunning.  Mr. Cox doesn’t come close.  He is loud and bombastic.  And then louder.  It’s a one level performance.  Nothing to remotely bring LBJ to life.

The production is too big.  Too loud.  Too academic.  With little emotion.  Or humor.  At the helm is Bill Rauch who seems to be a traffic coordinator without much feeling for the characters.  It’s all too superficial.  Hitting all the headlines and co-players of his days in office.  The Viet Nam war and its increasing casualties.  Selma, Alabama.  Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  Robert Kennedy.  Hoover.  VP Humphrey.  McNamara and Westmoreland.  Nixon.  Wallace.  And briefly Lady Bird to name but a few.

Surprisingly, it is Nikkole Salter as Coretta Scott King and Sally Childress (Secretary and gatekeeper to LBJ) who shines in this over stuffed production.

There is an insert – a double sided listing of all the characters and actors.  You may find yourself referring to it throughout when your interest wanes.

At the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center.  Through November 30.

2 hrs. 45 minutes.  One intermission.

www.greatsocietybroadway.com

Photos:  Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

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LINDA VISTA – by Tracy Letts, a Steppenwolf production at 2ndStage

October 12th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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Dick Wheeler’s life is anything but a pretty picture.  He seems to have been born with low self- esteem.  He is in the middle of a prolonged divorce, bickering over child support and whatever else there is to bicker about.  His thirteen year old son is into porn and refuses to go to school.  But that’s his life not Wheelers.

At age 50 he is experiencing a monumental mid-life crisis working at repairing cameras (those that use film) when he was once a budding photographer.  Michael (Troy West) a man of a certain age, his boss, still lives with his mother, is suicidal in an amusing way and coverts the breasts of co-worker Anita (Caroline Neff) herself in recovery mode.

Wheeler is just moving into his new apartment in LINDA VISTA – San Diego California, as the play by Tracy Letts opens; being assisted by his squash buddy and longtime pal Paul (Jim True-Frost) who is married to Margaret (Sally Murphy) a long ago girl friend of Wheeler.

They worry for Wheeler and have set up a double/blind date in a Karaoke bar with Jules (Cora Vander Broek) a “life coach” who has her own set of problems yet has a Masters in Happiness.  LINDA VISTA runs just under three hours in two acts and worth every minute.

It is, at times, hysterical.  You will never see a more realistic and excruciatingly funny sex scene between Wheeler and Jules.  Beautifully and tastefully staged by director Dexter Bullard and Claire Warden (Intimacy Consultant) – who certainly knows her stuff.  Full frontal nudity for both participants.  If that isn’t enough to sell tickets then the play itself will do its best to give you something to laugh about and to think about.

IAN BARFORD is Wheeler, giving an honest and well rounded, first you love him then you hate him, no holds barred incredible performance.  With a hang dog look and a grumpy mid-life crisis attitude he runs away with this comedy.  Yes, this is an extremely funny play.  Yet truthful and moving with dialogue that is sharp and wise and caustic.  Covering everything from “foam” in restaurants to that orange monster who shall not be named to old movies and that old standby betrayal, Wheeler rants and raves with great comedic dead pan timing.  An Archie Bunker meets Jay Leno type of dude who prefers Wheeler over his first name which is Dick.

Into this mix arrives Minnie (Chantal Thuy) a 26 year old Vietnamese American with pink hair and red high-tops.  Wheeler meets her in a bar and as fate would have it she has seen him at his pool in the complex and arrives in the middle of the night (post-sex with Jules) as her boyfriend has beat her and she is pregnant and she has nowhere to go.  So our accommodating Dick invites her to stay…

Wisely Anita has refused to date this troubled Dick who is caught between his past and his future all the while having to deal with his present.  Serious and troubling stuff included.

The various locations are cinematically presented on the functional turntable set by Todd Rosenthal.  A panoramic view of Palm trees and a San Diego skyscape is truly a beautiful view.  Odd musical selections accompany the scene changes.  Appropriate costumes by Laura Bauer.

But it is the writing of Tracy Letts that wins the evening.  That and the terrific performance by Ian Barford strongly supported by all the other cast members.  A fine ensemble.  And oh, that sex scene!

A Steppenwolf production.  At Second Stage Theater.  The Helen Hayes Theater.  Highly recommended.  Through November 10th.

2hrs. 40 minutes.  One intermission

 

www.2st.com

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Photos: Joan Marcus

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THE HEIGHT OF THE STORM – intriguing and enigmatic

September 30th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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Cue:  Ominous melancholy music.  Cue:  Soft light through kitchen window after last night’s storm – outside of Paris.  Cue:  Andre standing alone at the window; looking out.  Immobile.  Cue:  Daughter Anne enters speaking to her dad who is seemingly lost in his own thoughts.

Thus begins THE HEIGHT OF THE STORM by French playwright Florian Zeller – English translation by Christopher Hampton.

Starring Jonathan Pryce as Andre a renowned writer and Eileen Atkins as his wife Madeleine, who after 50 years of marriage has finally broken her vow and died before he did.  Or has she?  Unfortunately Andre is suffering from dementia and hand tremors.  Responses from Andre range from childlike laughter to anger to rage to tenderness to simple confusion to complete bafflement.

As one might very well be as the play continues back and forth from past to present revealing old relationships and secrets and some hard truths in its four segments totaling 80 intriguing minutes to its compassionate conclusion in the beautifully appointed French countryside kitchen by Anthony Ward who also supplied the appropriate costumes.  Somber music by Gary Yershon separates scenes.

Even the great detective Hercule Poirot might have had to use his grey cells overtime to figure out what actually is happening in this sometimes difficult to interpret, mysterious memory play.

They have two daughters that have come for the funeral and deal with the future.  Perhaps putting Andre in a home as he cannot take care of himself without his wife who could do so without any problem.

The favorite Anne (Amanda Drew) to organize Papa’s papers and locate his very private unpublished diary and the other one Elise (Lisa O’Hare) bouncing from beau to beau – the latest a Real Estate agent The Man (James Hillier) whose name is Paul.  The sister’s relationship is strained to say the least.

Mother is quite relieved when they have all gone.

Director Jonathan Kent along with Lighting Designer Hugh Vanstone have done an excellent job in helping to clarify the proceedings.  The past suddenly in our present and then back again.  New characters introduced – The Man (see above) and The Woman (Lucy Cohu) an old friend that Madeleine has met in the market and invited back for tea and a chat with Andre.  Unexpected results ensue.  With talk of poisonous mushrooms and the suicide of an old couple facing similar problems.

Dementia is difficult to deal with.  So is death.  But one must be prepared to deal with such things and to be strong enough to continue with the help of children and or friends.  It is strange what one discovers when a loved one dies and what secrets are revealed.  It’s not easy to digest.  Or understand.  Life is complicated.  Death, more so.  Florian Zeller explains in a most unusual and unconventional way.

Runs through November 17th.  Manhattan Theater Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre 261 West 47th Street.  No intermission.

www.heightofthestorm.com

Photos:  Joan Marcus

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

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BETRAYAL – IT TAKES 3 TO TANGO in this dance of duplicity

September 9th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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Pinter can be puzzling.  Not so here, in this exceptional revival expertly directed by Mr. Jamie Lloyd.  Imported from across the pond with its original stars intact.  This is no snobbish import.  This is the real deal.  Great theater.  Anyone interested in seeing fine actors at work directed with sublime detail should race to the Bernie Jacobs Theatre.  Run ends December 8th.  Hurry.

Surreal.  A heightened reality.  Bare bones.  Stark.  No set to speak of.  Two chairs and a small table.  Some props.  Mostly booze.  The economical words of Pinter.  And his infamous pauses.  Allowing the actors to express inner thoughts with a nod, a smirk, a search for the right word, or a false laugh or waiting to see what the reaction will be or lack thereof.  One can almost hear their minds at work.  All brought together with a brand new rhythm created by director Jamie Lloyd.

From the opening tableau this sexual love triangle tango for three sets a slow, steady and seductive pace that transfixes the audience into complete silence.

The three main characters stay on stage throughout – one never out of the mind of the other two.  A silent and brooding presence.  Dishonesty, deception, inner hostilities and selfishness simmer to the surface.

These people are not nice.  Professional and smart.  Attractive on the surface.  But…

BETRAYAL starts in 1977 and ends at the beginning in 1968.  The affair has ended for some time when we meet Emma (free spirit Zawe Ashton) who runs an art gallery that is dark on Thursday that had enabled her to carry on an illicit five year tryst with Jerry (a hot Charlie Cox) a literary agent.  Jerry is the best mate of Emma’s husband Robert (a cold Tom Hiddleston) a bitter publisher who loves Yeats.  Jerry was Best Man at their wedding.  She is now with Casey (unseen) another writer that Jerry has discovered.  Children are involved.  Most distasteful.

Mr. Lloyd manages to bring out the dark humor especially with Jerry and a scene in an Italian restaurant with a waiter (an excellent Eddie Arnold) beset with serving Jerry and Robert but it is the hidden truths that emerge that are so horrible but so beautifully staged that is breathtaking.

This is their riveting, unsettling story.  No intermission.  No late seating.

Excellent subdued lighting by Jon Clark.  A moody, melancholy soundscape by Ben & Max Ringham.  Both making for seamless transitions between the nine scenes of this one act 90 minute revival.  Simple but apt costumes and set design by Soutra Gilmour.

The bar has been set quite high for the rest of the season.

A note about Yeats.  I did a bit of research.  He also had marital problems.  Dabbled in automatic writing and was “a symbolist poet – using allusive imagery and symbolic structures.  He chose words and assembled them so that, in addition to a particular meaning they suggest abstract thoughts that may seem more significant and resonant.”  Wikipedia.

www.betrayalonbroadway.com

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Photos:  Marc Brenner

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MOULIN ROUGE! The musical – The Bohemians are back

August 4th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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Based on the 2001 controversial Baz Luhrmann music video styled movie MOULIN ROUGE! a new creative team has brought back its Bohemians of Montmartre circa 1899 with a vengeance – and mammoth budget – on stage – at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre – for two and a half plus pulsating, relentless hours searching for its own distinct style with over seventy, count ‘em seventy songs (of various length and importance) that the slew of over thirty five producers has seen fit to share with us.

There is a smorgasbord of styles for us to digest.  MOULIN ROUGE! is totally inconsistent under the direction of Alex Timbers.  Is it a true love story?  Is it a farce?  A tragedy?  Is it a tale told with tongue in highly rouged cheek or is it just a glitzy and glamorous extravaganza?  The answer is all of the above – with a wink!

The audience is allowed to take videos and photos pre-show.  And they all do.  To bring back as a souvenir, I suppose for the show itself will evaporate from one’s mind tout de suite.

The story is quite simple.  After all, all those songs have to fit in, in the allotted time frame.

An American would be composer, Christian (the handsome Aaron Tveit with his radiant smile and glorious voice albeit lackluster charisma) arrives in Paris.  As an outcast, he soon finds fellowship with Toulouse-Lautrec (Sahr Ngaujah – an extremely odd choice of casting) and a dancer from Argentina, Santiago (Ricky Rojas) – Les Trois Musketeers, sort of.

Lautrec is involved with a show at the MOULIN ROUGE run by a gay Master of Ceremony Harold Zidler (a hard working Danny Burstein with brightly painted fingernails) who has run out of francs and is looking for a new backer to back his star Satine (Karen Olivo – whose opening song brings down the house and lots of silver confetti and then rapidly loses her sizzle.

Christian falls hard for Satine.  Satine falls hard for the evil villain of the piece the wealthy Duke of Monroth (Tam Mutu – the only believable and sexy one of the group) who after seeing a rough run-through of a new show starring Satine, decides to own the show and Satine.  This is known as the romantic triangle.

For what it’s worth there is little to no chemistry between the two star-crossed lovers.  Perhaps because of the frenetic pacing (Where am I supposed to be now?)  or (having to focus on what part of which song byte am I singing?) both Tveit and Olivo appear to be concentrating on anything but each other.  Where is the smoldering, sexy, romantic love affair promised?

With “L’Amour” in bright red letters featured on the incredible Coney Island surround-set by Derek McLane and the elaborate/opulent costumes by Catherine Zuber with great lighting by Justin Townsend.

The ho-hum choreography is by Sonya Tayeh.

There are references to many other well-worn musicals:  CABARET, FOLLIES, RENT, LA BOHEME and PRETTY WOMAN.  With a dose of FOLIES BERGERE, AMERICAN IDOL and MY FAIR LADY.

Act II develops the show within this show through its tragic ending.  And finally ends with a coda of a Can-Can which brought me out of my stupor and had the audience standing for the curtain call and another song!

The real star of this production is Justin Levine – who has done a masterful job of incorporating all the songs and tidbits thereof.  Music supervisor, orchestrations, arrangements and additional lyrics.

Recently a man proposed to his lady after the show – which might very well start a trend like those love locks on one of the bridges of Paris.  Let’s hope that couple fares much better than our two alleged lovers of MOULIN ROUGE!  Bonne chance!

www.moulinrougemusical.com

2 hrs. 45 minutes one intermission

Photos:  Matt Murphy

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