Oscar E Moore

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HADESTOWN on Broadway

April 21st, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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Something old, something new, something borrowed, something bluesy.   This about sums up the sometimes exciting, sometimes repetitive, sometimes off the track lavish sweaty and sultry production of HADESTOWN now at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

I first saw its off-Broadway incarnation at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2016.  In the round.  Well, three quarters.  With uncomfortable chairs.  But a leopard can’t change its spots.

Despite a new big budget production that really does impress with its full-of-surprises proscenium set design (Rachel Hauck) re-imagined costumes (Michael Krass) and superb lighting by Bradley King with a truckload of producers, HADESTOWN remains a pseudo-poetic, melodramatic, edging toward pretentious story looking for a score that satisfies.

The music is a combination of New Orleans jazz, blues, calypso and ragtime that is performed by on stage band that is excellent.  The lyrics are mundane when you can understand them.  Sound design by Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz could be improved upon.

The slight plot ambles along aided by narrator Hermes (a game Andre De Shields) who is slick and gets the job done along with three Fates – a Greek Chorus combo:  Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer and Kay Trinidad who are excellent weaving in and out, teasing and beguiling somewhat akin to The Pointer Sisters.

Loosely based on the borrowed Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice Anais Mitchell has supplied us with Music, Lyrics & Book that along with director and co-developer Rachel Chavkin have kept this train chugging along since its birth as a sixty minute album in 2010.

Here we have some improvement in the casting of the title characters.  Reeve Carney is the naïve guitar strumming poet Orpheus who falls head over heels in love with Eva Noblezada as the “hungry” Eurydice.  They at least connect with one another in this doomed love affair.  Her voice is strong and Mr. Carney does well with the high almost counter tenor notes he is called forth to emit in an almost other worldly voice.

But then Hades, ruler of the Underworld has to interfere and screw up everything.  Literally and figuratively.  Patrick Page – he of the basso profundo voice that may bring to mind the guy that did the voice overs for many a movie trailer of the past has the hots for Eurydice despite being married to Persephone (Amber Gray) Goddess of the seasons and has built a WALL (that has ears) to keep out the enemies and to keep him totally in charge.

Persephone, long suffering wife of Hades, is understandably unhappy.  And so she drinks a lot and hams it up at times gyrating in the extreme.

David Newman has created new choreography that is more masculine primal movement that is very exciting to watch especially headed by Atlas lookalike Timothy Hughes.  You can add sexy and hot into the brew.

Fast paced it is except when what story there is bogs down in Act II and HADESTOWN begins to be a noticeably long day’s journey into hell and almost back as Orpheus attempts to bring his beloved Eurydice up from the dark to a better world.

2 hrs 30 minutes. One intermission.

www.hadestown.com

Photos:  Matthew Murphy

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WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME on Broadway

April 1st, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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How about ditching our old Constitution for a new one?  A Constitution that was created by the all too powerful, all too privileged and all too white men who owned property – some being slave owners that doesn’t protect the rights of women.

That’s a proposition set forth near the end of this almost one woman ninety minute no intermission production that Heidi Schreck (author and performer) has been at work on since she was fifteen years old in the abortion free zone where she grew up in Washington State.

Where she made enough money for her college tuition by making speeches and winning debates based on the Constitution and how she felt about it.  Patience and persistence and passion have paid off.  She is on Broadway.

Last year it was produced off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop where it opened smack in the middle of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination proceedings (perfect timing) and became the New York critics’ darling:  #1 Play of the Year and Best Play of the Year by almost one and all.  It is now housed at the Helen Hayes Theater for a limited 12 week engagement where you can see for yourself and make your own decision.  Somehow she lost me along the way despite her charm and intelligence.

You will hear about how this all began.  How she was coached by her dad.  How she won enough money to finance her aforementioned education.  I think she was a pretty smart cookie to begin with, now looking like a stand in for Kate Hudson doing stand-up comedy.

Heidi Schreck is quite funny and engaging and verbose and smart and a clever storyteller with an agenda in her American Legion Veteran’s look alike set by Rachel Hauck with dozens of dower Vets looking down on her from behind as she speaks as her 15 year old self behind the podium to us the audience, asking us to pretend that we are the all-white males from which she seeks to win her funds for college.

She then becomes her present age and goes back and forth in the process of explaining her take on the all-important Fourteenth Amendment.  And how it has not protected women in particular.  You will hear of her great great grandmother who was purchased from a catalog as a mail order bride and some of her other female relatives and their being beaten and raped and treated like a piece of property.

You will hear about abortion.  Penumbra.  And you will hear an audio clip of Supreme Court Justices that is eye opening.

Your vocal prowess will be tested in the audience participation section where you will cheer on or boo the debate on whether we should abolish or keep the Constitution as is.  A debate between Heidi and a young student (either Rosdely Ciprian or Thursday Williams) depending on the performance schedule.

Mike Iveson is the onstage moderator.  Handing over notes to Heidi as need be and holding up cards to alert her of the time left to speak.  There are certain strict rules set up that she not surprisingly veers off from.  Speaking of which his character plays a similar role as he removes part of his clothes and becomes her older friend who has his own set of problems.

Finally, you will receive a complimentary pocket sized edition of The Constitution of the USA from the ACLU for your reading pleasure, if you so desire.

Directed by Oliver Butler.

No intermission. 90 minutes.  EXTENDED Through July 21, 2019.

www.constitutionbroadway.com

Photos:  Joan Marcus

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AIN’T TOO PROUD the life and times of THE TEMPTATIONS

March 30th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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For the dedicated fans of the “Classic 5” Temptations it’s all about the music.  The Motown sound of the 60’s.  On this point AIN’T TOO PROUD the life and times of The Temptations really delivers.  And delivers.  And delivers.  With a sensational cast.  Their style, their sound, their smooth moves and their unique look is on view at the Imperial Theatre for all to cheer.

But don’t look too deeply for much of an insight into their lives in this Readers’ Digest condensed and abridged version of their back story that takes a back seat to all their glorious sounds and songs.  There is a lot to digest as the group goes through the classic pitfalls of success.  The clash of personalities, drugs, alcohol and being on the road touring over the decades.

We get sound bites of over 30 top tunes including “My Girl” “Shout” “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” and “Poppa Was a Rollin’ Stone”  just to name a few.  You may find yourself bouncing along in your seat and singing along, the presentations being so infectious.

Moving along at a speed much faster than a vintage LP recording thanks to a turntable and conveyor belt that seem appropriate for this well-oiled assembly line product.

Almost all of the creative powers that be for this latest juke box musical are identical to those of JERSEY BOYS, a phenomenal success:  Director Des McAnuff, choreographer Sergio Trujillo whose vigorous high octane motorized dance moves begin to become repetitive, sound designer Steve Canyon Kennedy and lighting designer Howell Binkley.

The new addition is Dominique Morisseau as the writer of the straightforward and at times melodramatic book.  It seems her distinct style should have had more of a chance of success as she hails from Detroit where the group started.  But alas her wings seem to have been clipped.  Perhaps for lack of time.

For the record, the “Classic 5” Temptations include Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin) our low key narrator ingratiating himself throughout; humbly praising himself as the leader of the pack.  In fact, the production is based on his 1988 memoir THE TEMPTATIONS by Otis Williams with Patricia Romanowski.

Then there is Paul Williams (James Harkness) who has trouble dealing with fame and fortune becoming an alcoholic and ultimately committing suicide.  Melvin Franklin (Jawan M. Jackson) he of the deep bass voice that is used to add some badly needed comic relief.  Eddie Kendricks (Jeremy Pope) he of the sweet falsetto and charming smile who wows us in Act II when he takes over as lead singer in a duet with Diana Ross (Candice Marie Woods).

And finally David Ruffin (Ephraim Sykes) who has an ego to surpass all egos and a jump split that is gasp inducing as the lead singer of the group in Act I.  He thinks he is a star and he is indeed a star and even when fired from the group will come back to take over the mic even when barred from the theater.  David’s story is the most interesting with the group and I only wish that the leading up to it were quicker as it is a long evening at the Imperial.  But AIN’T TOO PROUD is about the group; not their individual egos.  It’s about the music.  Still going strong.

As Otis Williams relates to us in the terrific grand finale The Temptations became the number one Rhythm and Blues Group – having had 24 different guys in the group over the years – keeping this famous Brand Name alive and well.

NOTE:  Eagerly awaiting the cardiovascular TEMPTATIONS exercise tape by Sergio Trujillo and original cast album.  Two and half hours.  One intermission.

www.ainttooproudmusical.com

Photos:  Matthew Murphy

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

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NANTUCKET SLEIGH RIDE by John Guare – a talent to amuse and confuse

March 27th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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A superb cast spearheaded by a befuddled and dead pan John Larroquette who only leaves the stage briefly during a brief intermission or to change his pants at the Mitzi E. Newhouse in this wild romp through the memory of his character Edmund Gowery – a venture capitalist who once wrote a hit play “Internal Structure of Stars” – the one and only play he ever wrote awaits you – if you are adventurous.

If you have ever had a long ago memory triggered by an event in the present and try to go back in time, in thought and perhaps in denial you may find NANTUCKET SLEIGH RIDE intriguing, amusing and sometimes confusing as Edmund relives the summer of 1975 in Nantucket where an amateur production of said play has involved most of the other characters in said play at one point or another.  Very six degrees of separation-ish.

In fact, one might call this production “a fine kettle of fish” quite appropriately as his memory is a fish stew of sorts that begins with a puzzle.  A crossword puzzle where the answer to 57 across is our hero.

Poe (Adam Chanler-Berat) and his sister Lilac (Grace Rex) have forgotten what happened that summer of ’75 and need Edmund Gowery to reboot their memory and so we all go on this skewered ride through the past when they were 9 and 7.

They are both bizarrely brilliant.  You’d win a bet that they are actually related.  Looking very much like cousins from the Addams family tree when they were 9 and 7…

…In the house that Edmund bought from his royalties of said play at the suggestion of his agent/lawyer Gilbert (Jordan Gelber) whose wife Antonia is fooling around with Edmund on the side.  I think.  He is also involved with Alice.  Tina Benko portrays both flames.

The house once belonged to poet Jorge Luis Borges (German Jaramillo) who weaves in and out as does his accented voice.  His daughter Elsie (Clea Alsip) mother of Poe and Lilac sold the house to Edmund without his knowing that a mail order kiddie porn outfit was using it as their headquarters.  That brings a stern police woman Aubrey Coffin (an excellent Stacey Sargeant – she also plays Edmund’s secretary and has some choice vocal cameos) ready to arrest him.  She played the grandma with TB in said production and demonstrates.

We also meet McPhee (Will Swenson) a wild Vietnam vet who carries around – in a cooler – a large lobster.  After all it is Nantucket.  He is in love with Elsie despite her being married to a shrink – Dr. Harbinger (Douglas Sills) who portrays two other roles including a dead Walt Disney on ice.  I think.

JAWS is featured throughout.  As is Hitchcock.  SUSPICION.  Roman Polanski.  And a conga line.  This I am sure of.

Unfortunately Act II goes down stream into more bizarre waters.

NANTUCKET SLEIGH RIDE has been given an A-1 production that is ingeniously staged by Jerry Zaks on an equally impressive set by David Gallo.  Are we in an office with three tiers of doors (30) or a morgue?

As the panels slide open the various characters are revealed and the set opens up in Edmund’s memory in swift succession.  You might not know exactly what’s going on at all times but you will relish the terrific performances of one and all.

Costumes by Emily Rebholz define characters down to their socks.  Lighting by Howell Binkley is spot on.  An hour and fifty minutes worth of absurd farce.  One intermission.

www.lct.org

Photos:  T. Charles Erickson

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BE MORE CHILL makes it to B’way – I’m glad I’m not young anymore

March 25th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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Still trying to “chill out” after seeing the social media cult sensation sci-fi cautionary teenage tale of woe musical BE MORE CHILL at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway.  Not altogether ready to give the production the cold shoulder but extremely close to it.

Based on a 2004 young adult novel by Ned Vizzini this overlong and kinetic energy infused production boasts over forty producers above its title, last of which is “and Two River Theater” in Red Bank New Jersey where it all began in 2015.

Lackluster interest led somehow to a cast recording.  The pop rock score is by Joe Iconis, no Cole Porter he.  Nor should he be.  I know, the times they are a-changin’ and Mr. Porter didn’t compose for teens.  I am aware of that.  BUT…back to the recording…

That led to a gazillion teens discovering it; spreading and bursting the score into the teen musical comedy scene on social media which in turn led to an off-B’way production this past summer which in turn has landed at the Lyceum with questionable results.

BE MORE CHILL is for teens.  I am not a teen.  I am happy not to be a teen.  However teens or their parents are scooping up tickets and by their reaction in the audience one would think the cure for acne has been discovered.  The discovery would be better if it was for teenage angst.  Of which there is plentiful amounts on view.

Case in point.  Our hero.  Jeremy Heere.  Portrayed by a wonderful actor Will Roland who is a cross between Arnold Stang (google him) and Kermit and Seymour Krelborn from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.  He feels inferior.  He doesn’t know what to do.  So he secretly masturbates.  He is bullied.  Wants to fit in.  Has a best friend, Michael for 12 years.  Ah Michael…everyone knows who Michael (George Salazar) is from the most popular song from the show “Michael in the Bathroom” where he has locked himself – lamenting his inability to join in the Halloween festivities.  He just doesn’t fit in too.

Speaking of which is love interest of sorts Christine (Stephanie Hsu) a theatre nerd.  It seems that all misfits gravitate towards the theater in teen comic book land and she is no exception.  She along with all the other one dimensional characters will be mounting a Shakespeare inspired production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM (which is no KISS ME, KATE) rechristened A MIDSUMMER NIGHTMARE.  You get the tone of the show.  But wait.

The tattooed Rich (Gerard Canonico) has a cure for Jeremy.   It’s a pill with a computer.  From Japan.  To be taken with Mountain Dew.  Called a Squip.  Personified by a seductive Jason Tam as The Squip.  Could easily be mistaken for a used car salesman or the devil or someone who wants to control all the minds of all the people who take it thinking it will improve their lives and help them…not be cool…but to be more chill!

Other characters in this concoction include a couple of Mean Girls – Chloe (Katlyn Carlson) and Brooke (Lauren Marcus) who seem to have wandered in from the musical of the same title.

Jake (Britton Smith) a jock who goes from one mean girl to the other and Jenna (Tiffany Mann) who wails away in typical American Idol fashion.  The kids loved her.

The squip gets them all to take a dose of his cure somewhat akin to the mass Jonestown massacre although not with such disastrous results.

Last but not least is Jeremy’s refusing-to-wear-pants dad Mr. Heere (Jason Sweettooth Williams).  Ever since mom left them.  I guess she wore the pants in the family.

Enough.  Will they all suffer the consequences of the quick Squip easy fix to their lives, or will they suffer the consequences?

The choreography (Chase Brock) is mostly stylized synchronized movements (hand and feet and head) that reaches its zenith with a goose stepping squad of Squips.

However there is a kaleidoscope of bizarre and colorful costumes in the aforementioned Halloween opening second act number that stun the eyes by Bobby Frederick Tilley II.  Superb neon lighting by Tyler Micoleau.  Quick changing set designs by the ever brilliant Beowulf Boritt that keep up with the frantic pace of director Stephen Brackett.  It’s unfortunate that the book by Joe Tracz doesn’t quite make the grade.  BE MORE CHILL just tries too hard.

www.bemorechillmusical.com

Photos:  Maria Baranova

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KISS ME, KATE! – Timeless revisal where “so in love” says it all

March 23rd, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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Finally!  A necessary and extremely well put together magical musical.  With wit and charm and sex and style, a dose or two of the double entendre, some slapstick and a couple of gangsters.  All set during a musical version of Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.

Great choreography by Warren Carlyle and beautifully directed by Scott Ellis.  The bickering battle between its two leading players (ex-husband and wife) takes place backstage, on stage and off.

The original book by Sam and Bella Spewack has had some additional material by Amanda Green to make it more up to date and politically correct.  No spanking allowed!

After a steady diet of insipid, lean, teen angst-ridden productions posing as musicals with mostly unmemorable music and lyrics arrives the cream of the crop from the mind and supreme talent of Cole Porter.  He’s clever with words.  He’s romantic to a fault.  He’s arrived just in time to delight the tired-of-the-mediocre masses.

It’s Lent.  Why not give up all those wannabe and pretending to be musicals and scurry over to the Roundabout Theatre’s superb feast of a show at Studio 54.  It’s just been extended through June 30th.

No matter that it was first produced in 1948.  KISS ME, KATE!  is a classic.  It is timeless.  And it has been given a wonderfully attractive production (set design:  David Rockwell; costume design:  Jeff Mahshie; lighting design:  Donald Holder) with a first rate cast that has spruced up KISS ME, KATE and brought it into the 21st century where this damsel in distress can sure take care of herself with a smile and/or a sneer whenever called for with a quick one two kick for good measure.

The damsel in question is Lilli Vanessi (a radiant Kelli O’Hara – glorious voice intact) once married to lothario Fred Graham (Will Chase) in his best John Barrymore mode. They toured together.  They sang together.  They loved one another.  She is now engaged to an Army General.  Fred has wooed her back to the theatre with a co-starring role in a musical version of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW that he has “created, produced and directed.”  He is Petruchio to her Katherine.  They are simply made for one another with voices that soar in Porter’s score.

Corbin Bleu is Bill Calhoun and Lucentio.  A tap dancing gambler in love with Lois Lane who portrays Bianca.  Lois is a flirt with some military connections.  Bill as Lucentio has a great dance number with Bianca and Gremio (Will Burton) and Hortensio (Rick Faugno) “Tom, Dick, or Harry” with an emphasis on the Dick.  Suggestive and hilarious.

Bill’s written a false I.O.U. which brings the two gangsters (John Pankow & Lance Coadie Williams) to the star dressing room of Fred.  Lilli threatens to leave the show after a floral misunderstanding and the two gangsters stick around to make sure she doesn’t, to protect their investment of sorts.  It’s all crazy and fun and very easy to enjoy.

The singing is spectacular.  Kelli O’Hara even has a brief duet with a bird.  The acrobatic dancing with splits and slides and tap upstages the singing at times and the Act II “Too Darn Hot” is sensational.

So what are you waiting for?  Get thee hence to Studio 54 and luxuriate in the music of Cole Porter who is on a par with Shakespeare as a master of words.  “So in Love” says it all.  Very highly recommended.

Note:  Understudy Christine Cornish Smith went on for Stephanie Styles as Bianca and did everyone proud.

www.roundabouttheatre.org

Photos:  Joan Marcus

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HARPER LEE’S “TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD” on Broadway

February 28th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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Worthwhile.  Adjective.  Worth the time, effort or money spent; of value or importance.  And it is this word that describes beautifully this compassionate and memorable memory play TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD that might (and should) run forever at the Shubert Theatre.

Harper Lee rightfully gets top billing in this re-imagined and brilliant theatrical production based on the characters and story she created in her Pulitzer Prize winning 1961 novel of the same name that dealt with racism and injustice in the Depression era of the South.

It’s the best of folks and the worst of folks – featuring the good the bad and the truth.  An unflinching look at race relations that is as relevant today as it was then.

Unfortunately false accusations are still rampant.  Racism is still rampant.   And few theatrical productions face these problems head on.  So lyrically.  So honestly.  So eloquently.

This “new play” by Aaron Sorkin is just that.  A new, re-imagined, re-structured look at a classic story that is in itself riveting without losing the essence of Harper Lee’s timeless creation.

Add to that the superb, fluid staging, pacing and sensitive direction of Bartlett Sher and you get a fresh new look at the trial of Tom Robinson (Gbenga Akinnagbe), a black handyman and family man who has lost the use of his left arm and is accused of raping the fragile, timid and white Mayella Ewell (Erin Wilhelmi) – allegedly caught in the act by her dad Bob Ewell, who only has one thing in mind and that is to get this “savage sub-human nigga” one way or another.

Ewell is the prime witness for prosecutor Horace Gilmer (Stark Sands) who faces off against Atticus Finch while Judge Taylor (Dakin Matthews) with a not very subtle humor steals each one of his scenes – adding levity to a very serious trial.

The story unfolds as Scout Finch (a bright, sassy, always questioning and remarkable Celia Keenan-Bolger with an observant eye well beyond her years) remembers and brings us back to her tomboy days in Maycomb, Alabama 1934.

She is our narrator along with her brother Jem Finch (a reliable Will Pullen) and visiting pal Dill Harris (a quirky Gideon Glick).  This trio lurks in the foreground and background.  Always present.  Running or playing or bearing witness to the proceedings.  It’s a fabulous feat of writing and structure by Mr. Sorkin manifested by Mr. Sher.

Atticus Finch (a strong, crafty yet compassionate Jeff Daniels) defends Tom Robinson the accused, as we seamlessly go back and forth to the trial and meet the various colorful townsfolk that fill the stage at the Shubert.

Calpurnia (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) the Negro cook, not afraid to talk back with her wry comments, the elderly acid tongued gardener Mrs. Henry Dubose (Phyllis Somerville), Link Dees (Neal Huff) the town drunk, and quiet, house bound Boo Radley (Danny Wolohan) who in his silence becomes most important.

Stylish and accurate costumes (Ann Roth).  Appropriate lighting (Jennifer Tipton).  Perfect scenic design (Miriam Buether).  The exterior faded red clapboard wall filling the proscenium with its single door allows Scout to lead us into the world of Maycomb.

On either side of the stage a guitarist (Allen Tedder) and pump organ (Kimberly Grigsby) unobtrusively add atmospheric background music by Adam Guettel.

Atticus is a kindhearted and generous widower who tries to teach his children to see the best in even the worst of people and that there is a right way to accomplish things.  Perhaps not better, but right. Accompanied with the realization that the wrong answer can sometimes be right and that the truth can have multiple meanings.  Oh, precious truth, rise above all.

2 hours and 35 minutes.  One intermission.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

www.tokillamockingbirdbroadway.com

Photos:  Julieta Cervantes

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NOTE:  Throughout the run, the production from Rudin and Lincoln Center Theater will partner with the New York City Department of Education to offer tickets priced at ten dollars to groups of middle and high school students throughout the New York City public school system.

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TRUE WEST unbalanced revival – a toast to the toasters

February 3rd, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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Sam Shepard’s 1980 period piece TRUE WEST comes across as an amalgamation of character study, Albee’s The American Dream (1961) and Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (1965) with a chorus of toasters thrown in for good measure now running at the much too large American Airlines Theatre through March 17th.

It stars Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano as brothers Lee and Austin respectively.  Yin and Yang.  Cain and Abel.  Wild and mild.

Both halves of one personality:  the shadow and the light.  I think that comes from a Jonathan Kellerman novel spoken by a psychologist.  In any event…

The stage is framed with an eyesore inducing frame of bright lights that stun during the many scene changes accompanied by bizarre sound effects and original music (Bray Poor) that includes crickets and coyote yelps.

Director James Macdonald moseys along in Act I at a moderate pace and does not take full advantage of the inherent dark humor to be mined in Sam Shepard’s universe.

The spic-and-span unit set (Mimi Lien) in true Cinemascope fashion stretches across the stage with lovely hanging plants that are flourishing and a lot of tchotchkes, some of which miraculously survive the tornado that sweeps across the kitchen in Act II as the brothers (who have taken on the persona of the other) verbally and physically spar and make a mess of the set and each other with the aforementioned toasters highlighted.  But I have gotten ahead of myself.

The home belongs to their mother (Mary Louise Burke) who is away on a trip to Alaska.  Austin is a successful writer with a wife up North and kids who is house sitting and taking care of the plants.  He is also spic-and-span clean.  Lee, the drop in brother who hasn’t been seen for 5 years isn’t.  Just the opposite.  But a charmer and a con man.  A heavy drinker.  A dreamer.  A thief.  A menace.  As Austin attempts to finish a draft for a screenplay that your typical clichéd Hollywood producer Saul Kimmer (Gary Wilmes) is interested in.

Lee has been in the desert visiting their old man who is a mess and losing his teeth one by one.

It seems that each one longs to have what the other one has.  And so Mr. Shephard has them transition into one another when Lee comes up with an idea for a true to life Western that he pitches to the producer on a golf course – (where he learned to play golf is just one of the many questionable and preposterous plot points) and Austin becomes the menacing force.  He also follows in the footsteps of his brother by robbing the neighbors of a slew of toasters to prove he can do it.

The highlight of TRUE WEST is a drunken Austin making toast in all of the stolen toasters and sharing the pile of bread with his brother Lee who has conned Austin into co-writing the Western.

The producer loves Lee’s Western chase movie idea more than the one Austin is working on (a period piece) which causes quite a problem to say the least.  Especially when they both are schnockered.  A common ground they now share.

Unfortunately Paul Dano is totally miscast and so half of the equation goes missing in this very uneven production.  While Ethan Hawke makes up for that in spades.  Perhaps a bit too much in spades.

As they wrestle to near death in the kitchen that has been pretty much decimated and the plants have all died (no plant will have such a quick death that I know of) Mom arrives and treats the scene like she has been through all this before and that her boys should go outside if they want to fight.

I leave you with one thought.  Let them eat toast!

A Roundabout Theatre Company revival.  2hrs. One 15 minute intermission.

www.roundabouttheatre.org

Photos:  Joan Marcus

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CHOIR BOY oh boy oh boy – Religion, repression, resilience and harmony

January 19th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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To snitch or not to snitch?  That is the dilemma facing Pharus Jonathan Young (Jeremy Pope) the flamboyantly gay, smartass, witty, intelligent, Bible quoting, take-no-nonsense crap from anyone, limp-wristed scholarship student and resilient lead tenor of the choir at the fictional Charles R. Drew Prep School for black boys in CHOIR BOY written by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

First produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club off-Broadway in 2013 CHOIR BOY has had some repair work done and this revisal is now housed in the acoustically challenged Samuel J. Friedman Theatre once again produced by MTC with many of the original cast members in a limited run through February 24th.  Some further repairs are called for.

Right away one can’t help but notice that there is a problem.  One of age.  Five years ago these guys might have passed for prep school teenagers, but unfortunately that is no longer the case.

No matter how well they all act and sing and dance one cannot overlook that important detail.

Now back to Pharus.  When your nemesis and fellow choir member is Bobby Marrow (J. Quinton Johnson) the nephew of Headmaster Marrow (Chuck Cooper) and you are in danger of losing your all-important, badly needed scholarship you would adhere to the school’s policy of not snitching (no matter what) even though you have just ruined the school anthem “Trust and Obey” at the 49th commencement ceremony due to the fact that Bobby has whispered “This faggot ass Nigga” just loud enough to unbalance you.

Perhaps Bobby has some problems about being queer himself? As in the lady doth protest too much?

Choirmates include Bobby’s best friend Junior Davis (Nicholas L. Ashe) who wavers throughout but is basically kind; the mysterious bespectacled David Heard (Caleb Eberhardt) seems to also have those kind of problems and the compassionate and straight roommate of Pharus, Anthony Justin “AJ” James (John Clay III) the hunky jock of the group whose body and soul are beautiful, especially when wearing just a towel in a couple of all important locker room scenes.  Steam vapors included.  Might even AJ have similar thoughts lurking within?  Note the tickle/giggle scene, the dirty sock scene and the haircut scene.

Austin Pendleton (portraying a confused professor Mr. Pendleton) has been brought in to teach a course in “Thinking” – perhaps it should be “corrected thinking”  His befuddlement only causes more problems in this already too-much-information-to-digest in this production directed by Trip Cullman which runs almost two hours without an intermission.

From the TV commercial featuring the five guys in their blue blazers, white button down shirts, khaki trousers and school regimental ties singing acapella, one is lead to believe that CHOIR BOY is all about the music.  In a way it is.  As the musical interludes are the best and most entertaining aspect of the show even though the numbers are shoehorned into the fragmented and complicated narrative.  Gorgeous close harmonies (Jason Michael Webb) with creative synchronized choreography by Camille A. Brown lift one’s spirits and supply hope.

The set design by David Zinn at first seems just right.  But the overall red color becomes annoying as does the blackboard that is never put to use besides rising to reveal the dorm room shared by Pharus and AJ.

However, I did relate.  Long Island City High School, 1961-2:

I was singing in the auditorium for my classmates a selection from GIRL CRAZY – a preview of the year end drama class production.  A few guys started to harass me shouting out gay slurs.  No one stopped them.  But I kept on singing.  As if nothing was bothering me.  They continued jeering at me for being a sissy.  I thought, well, if singing equals being a sissy so be it.  I was as resilient as Pharus and didn’t have to snitch.  Everyone had heard them.  I just kept singing.

www.manhattantheatreclub.com

Photos:  Matthew Murphy

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THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT – David vs. Goliath equals inconsequential semantics

January 12th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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On the eve of this limited run engagement’s closing at Studio 54 on January 13th, I offer this summation.

Fact:  It has been reported to have recouped its investment costs.  Eyeing London and a National tour.

Fact:  It starred three A List actors – Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale.  Each excellent.

It opened on October 18th fleetingly directed by Leigh Silverman.  I felt it was somewhat entertaining albeit repetitive.  The fact that it seemed somewhat contrived did not seem to bother many who were hungry to see these three thespians chew up each other and the scenery by Mimi Lien.

Fact:  It took three writers to come up with the approximately 85 minute script:  Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell.

I wondered if each took on a character and wrote specifically for that character as each character is quite one dimensional.  The tough editor Emily Penrose (Jones) who is the referee between the speed speaking ramrod straight fact checker Jim Fingal (Radcliffe aka David) and the difficult and arrogant author John D’Agata (Cannavale aka Goliath) of the article/essay in question that is in dire need of its embroidered and sometimes fanciful factual material being corrected before being published about the suicide of a 16 year old boy who jumped from the observation deck of a Las Vegas hotel casino.

No one cares much about the suicide just getting a slew of inconsequential facts corrected much to the dismay of the author.  Just the absolute correct facts ma’am just the absolute correct facts.

Fact:  This David vs. Goliath sit-com type script is based on a 2003 quasi journalistic article (essay) by D’Agata that was fact checked by Fingal that resulted in the tug of war result published in 2010 which in turn resulted in the 2012 book “What Happens There” by the real life D’Agata and Fingal.

But one should only be interested in what happens on the too large stage of Studio 54 for this intimate examination of “truth vs. fiction” – “credibility vs. creativity” – “article vs. essay.”  It goes by fast enough.

In reality THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT is an exercise in semantics.  Is it entertaining?  To an extent.  Is it fulfilling?  Not really with its ambiguous and pretentious fizzling-out of an ending.

BUT this not quite satiric production dealing with the gap between facts and individual style (poetic license) has reportedly made back its investment costs.  Ka-ching!

In the end it’s all about inconsequential semantics that has paid off royally.

www.lifespanofafact.com

Photo:  Peter Cunningham

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