Oscar E Moore

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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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THE CHER SHOW – Déjà vu

December 12th, 2018 by Oscar E Moore
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Déjà vu – a feeling of having already experienced the present situation, best describes this cursory, surreal, Reader’s Digest condensation, “This Is Your Life” Las Vegas type extravaganza aptly named THE CHER SHOW now on view for all Cher’s adoring fans and then some at the Neil Simon Theatre where it most probably will run till the last of her fans departs this earth.

There’s only one true CHER and she is not on stage.  Like the brooms in Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Cher clones are in abundance in this fantasia of her life as scripted by Rick Elice.  It takes a trio of gifted and talented actresses to narrate and star in Cher’s edited life in this kaleidoscopic Wikipedia version.

From a shy Armenian oddball named Cherilyn Sarkisian born in El Centro California to “a goddamn goddess warrior” the beat goes on and on and on.  Cher is like the Energizer Bunny.  At age 72 she keeps going and going and going.  At least she is not a hologram.  Yet.

She is blessed with having Stephanie J. Block as Star, Teal Wicks as Lady and Micaela Diamond as Babe representing the three ages of Cher somewhat like Albee’s THREE TALL WOMEN.  They speak with each other, make jokes.  They have her swagger and hair toss down pat.  They sing with that throaty timbre and have the attitude that seems to have come naturally to Cher.  They are wonderfully entertaining.  In addition there is another Cher – a great dancing Cher (Dark Lady – Ashley Blair Fitzgerald) who gives our trio a bit of a rest.

In quick succession Cher’s life flashes before our eyes not giving us enough time to take it all in or for the numerous (too many to count) musical numbers shoehorned into the narrative.

At 16 she meets Sonny Bono (a charmless Jarrod Spector; the butt of many short jokes) age 28.  He promises her the world – within two years – and they team up.

We learn she is a Taurus (no surprise!) and that she has trouble reading.  “Just sign this,” Sonny orders and she does.  She is afraid and not very confident despite her mom’s advice to her that “the song makes you strong” repeating this mantra often during the two and a half hours (one intermission) production.

Ms. Skinner holds her own as Georgia Holt, Cher’s mom.  A confident beauty with a wry sense of humor.  She also appears as Lucille Ball who advises her to “take charge of her life” in a bizarre scene.  Following Ball’s advice she is one of the three above the title producers of this musical memoir about empowerment and ego.

We also meet Gregg Allman (Matthew Hydzik) husband number two and Rob Camilletti (Bagel Bob).  He 23 to her age 40.  There are ups and downs and a brief unexplained sickness and her babies Chaz and Elijah, tax problems, fear problems, money problems, poor me problems, not enough time problems (after becoming rich for the moment it seems) and feeling alone problems and a slew of montages.  Her Oscar.  Her unemployment.  Her hairspray infomercial. Et al.

But she keeps going on and on and on in this fast paced and much too loud show directed by Jason Moore and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli with a chorus of hunky and handsome bare chested men showing more navel than the belly button incident made famous by Cher on CBS.  It kind of wears you down and into submission.

Before I end this review of a revue there is another star in this show.  And that is Bob Mackie’s costumes.  Mackie is portrayed by Michael Berresse.  Some of the infamous costumes we have seen before.  They are still magnificent.  Backstage must be something with so many costume changes.

Davy, a friend, summed up THE CHER SHOW succinctly as we left.  “Well, it’s cheaper than going to Vegas.”  I have to agree.

www.thechershowbroadway.com

Photos:  Joan Marcus

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

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NETWORK – starring a brilliant Bryan Cranston

December 11th, 2018 by Oscar E Moore
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I’m pleased as punch and I’d like to take in this production again and again – all the time wondering why it has taken so long for this theatrical jewel to arrive and wondering if Paddy Chayefsky had a crystal ball and wondering how satire became reality.

In 1976 Paddy Chayefsky’s original screenplay won an Oscar for NETWORK.   But ROCKY won Best Picture.  NETWORK deals with a fictional television network UBS and its struggle with poor ratings.  It was a satire.  They said this could never happen.

Lee Hall has adapted this eerie, frightening and pertinent production currently running at The Belasco Theatre.  It is impeccably directed by Ivo Van Hove who has turned the Belasco into a television studio, with monitors, large video screens and hand held cameras.  Close-up and personal.

There is the production control booth at one side and a small dining area on the other.  Why? Many have wondered.  Well, how do most of us watch the evening news?  Eating dinner, no?  Watching terrorists murder and blow up bodies and buildings as we swallow a piece of apple pie ala mode for dessert.

So much is going on that at times one doesn’t know where to look.  But Mr. Van Hove gets our focus back immediately.  And the outstanding portrayal of Mr. Cranston as the beleaguered newscaster as a man on the edge is unparalleled somewhat akin to the descent of King Lear.

Having been ousted after many years at UBS Howard Beale (Bryan Cranston) by his best friend and president of Network news Max Schumacher (Tony Goldwyn) he announces live on the broadcast that he is going to “blow his brains out” on live TV the following week.  Cut to commercial!

Ratings soar as Howard Beale slowly disintegrates on and off screen.   Sick of political lies and being manipulated, corporate bullshit, a decaying and demented world is enough to put him almost over the edge.  Watching all this is fascinating and frightening.

I expected audience members to rise up and shout out along with him as he rants his famous line “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”  Actually that happens a bit later when a newly revamped show by the treacherous Diane Christensen (Tatiana Maslany) has a warmup guy manipulating the audience into this rant-along.  Along with an “APPLAUSE” sign.  It’s a bit late for our audience members to realize that they are being manipulated.

Unfortunately Ms. Maslany is the very weak link – not the formidable foe that she should be – in this otherwise excellent cast.

The set and lighting design by Jan Versweyveld and video design by Tal Yarden are superb.  Tech rehearsal must have been fun.   Two hours without intermission.  See this disturbing and all too real production.

And please do not rush out after the curtain call.  There’s a bit more video.

www.networkbroadway.com

Photos:  Jan Versweyveld

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THE PROM – Love thy neighbor and love this show

December 10th, 2018 by Oscar E Moore
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Make a date.  Take a date.  With a friend.  A lover.  A teenager or person of a certain age who remembers what “musical-comedy” was in its prime.  Better yet take someone who doesn’t see eye to eye with you and see what happens after seeing this most clever, tuneful, original, uproariously funny, sweet and chock full of show-stopping numbers that is at the Longacre Theatre.  THE PROM is its title.  THE PROM is much more than the sum of its parts.  THE PROM is a feel good musical.  Better still, it is a feel good about yourself musical.

Favorable word of mouth, the best publicity there is, along with a ton of great critical reviews will keep this show running for a long time.  Following in the footsteps of BYE BYE BIRDIE and HAIRSPRAY it bridges the generational gap that will have many regional theatres just waiting to stage this courageous and tender tuner.

The book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin doesn’t mince words.  It get rights to the point.  The plot is deceptively simple.  Four almost has been Broadway stars and their press agent hear about a teenage lesbian in Indiana who wants to go to the prom with her not as yet out girlfriend but the PTA has banned same sex couples from the school prom.

This immediately after a disastrous review in the New York Times closes their musical of Eleanor Roosevelt starring diva Dee Dee Allen (Beth Leavel) and the lighter than air Barry Glickman (Brooks Ashmanskas) who are accused of being narcissists and unlikable.

They along with Angie (Angie Schworer) who has been toiling in the chorus of CHICAGO for years awaiting her turn to go on as Roxie and Trent Oliver (Christopher Sieber) who is at the moment a waiter at the opening and closing night party of the Eleanor musical who repeatedly boasts of his training at Juilliard and their press agent Sheldon Saperstein (Josh Lamon) concoct a scheme to help Emma (a wondrous Caitlin Kinnunen) without whom THE PROM would not be the delightful show that it is.

Emma does not want to cause a fuss.  She certainly doesn’t want these crazy actors from New York.  With her honest and sweet portrayal you immediately feel for her and want her to achieve her wish to simply dance with her girlfriend at the prom.  She has just the right tone and attitude to counterbalance the outrageous behavior of the actors who have come to help her.  Or have they come to get some good PR and revitalize their sinking careers?

The score (Music by Matthew Sklar) and (Lyrics by Chad Beguelin) will probably become a best-selling original cast album.  The songs are exciting and uplifting.  THE PROM is a perfect marriage of book and score and talent.

Emma’s girlfriend Alyssa (Isabelle McCalla) makes for a great mate.  Their ballads are honest and heartfelt.  Alyssa’s homophobic and in denial mom Mrs. Greene (Courtney Collins) is head of the PTA that wants to ban the prom.  She locks horns with the pro-inclusive Principal Mr. Hawkins (an excellent Michael Potts who is a great longtime fan of the diva Dee Dee, Ms. Level.  He adds gravitas to the show beautifully.

Production numbers are quite exciting as they build and build to their climax.  The choreography and direction by Casey Nicholaw are both superb with the cast of energetic teenagers wowing us time after time.

The “quartet of actors” each have show-stopping turns:  Angie’s “Zazz” – Sieber’s “Love Thy Neighbor” Ashmanskas’ “Barry Is Going to Prom” and Beth Level’s vocal powerhouse rendition of “The Lady is Improving.”

And now a word about the brilliant and exceptional Kate Marilley who is responsible for my seeing THE PROM twice.  I thank her profusely for her courage and talent.  At the matinee performance on Saturday November 17th the curtain was held for some time as backstage havoc was wrought.  A small slip of paper in the program stated that Kate Marilley would be performing the small role of Olivia Keating – reporter.  When the show finally started and Beth Leavel was not on stage something was amiss.  As it turned out they were finding a costume for Kate – a simple red dress.  And without ever performing the role of Dee Dee, and without a rehearsal – a new star glowed brightly.  She didn’t miss a beat.  Her comedic timing was brilliant and she stopped the show with “The Lady is Improving.”

Remember her name.  KATE MARILLEY.  She might be hard to find on stage as she is not assigned a role but understudies multiple parts, is a swing and assistant dance captain!  Brava !!!

NOTE:  I do hope the very impatient to exit pushy woman in my row (gesturing with her hand for me to move) who obviously did not understand the message imparted by this great “It shouldn’t be all about me” production and who didn’t realize how difficult it is for me to maneuver my cane and wobbly knee got to her couldn’t wait another second appointment on time – even though the exit aisle was packed with departing patrons.  It was like being stuck in a traffic jam and having someone behind me honking for me to move.  So…making room for her to squeeze past me I simply asked her if she was in a rush.  “Yes,” she replied.  “Did you not understand the message imparted by the show?” No reply as she scurried away stuck in the middle of the hoard of happy theatergoers.

Based on an original concept by Jack Viertel.  Very highly recommended. 2 hrs 25 min.  One 15 minute intermission.

www.theprommusical.com

Photos:  Deen van Meer

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AMERICAN SON – in stark black and white at the Booth

November 24th, 2018 by Oscar E Moore
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This is not a great one act play.  It is a taut and timely play.  A play torn from the horrific racial headlines that we read daily.  And see nightly on the news.  And so it is predictable in its outcome.  From the onset.  With some gasp inducing offensive language.

Reminiscent of the late 50’s early 60’s TV drama The Naked City a police and crime investigative series based in New York City where the tag line was “there are 8 million stories in the naked city, this has been one of them,” playwright/lawyer Christopher Demos-Brown (Broadway debut) has set this somewhat documentary styled drama in Miami Florida, in a stark and pristine police station at 4 am as a thunderstorm pelts the glass enclosed waiting area; where a pensive Kerry Washington distraught and rapidly losing her patience with the young white officer Paul Larkin (Jeremy Jordan) on duty awaits hearing news about her son Jamal who has not returned home.  Nine hours missing.

She cannot reach him on his phone.  And that is so unlike her son.  This after they had an argument and he drove off into the storm.  She waits for her estranged husband Scott, an F.B.I. Agent to arrive.  He is white and Irish and played by Steven Pasquale.

Her name is Kendra.  She is a shaken, vulnerable and black.  A psychology professor who isn’t about to sit back and wait for news.  She wants information right now.

Which unfortunately is not forthcoming.  The polite but condescending officer Larkin citing protocol holds back awaiting the arrival of liaison Lieutenant John Stokes (Eugene Lee) who will facilitate communication between one and all.  He is an older black man.  And so the battle field is equally fortified or so it seems.

Racism, parenting and police procedure rear their ugly heads.  And the longest wait for a cup of coffee, ever.

Little by little we learn the back story of the couple’s marriage and their privileged teenage son Jamal who is rethinking becoming a cadet at West Point where his corn rows might cause some concern.  He wants to find himself and play guitar.  Dirty laundry is aired while awaiting that cup of coffee.

Eventually the car, registered to his dad, Mr. F.B.I. is located with a couple of other black guys along with Jamal – with an all-important bumper sticker that ignites the situation.

Fireworks ensue on stage at the Booth as tensions build becoming melodramatic under the direction of Kenny Leon, waiting for what you most probably will not be surprised with the revelations and outcome.

The only thing Kendra and Scott love is their son Jamal and the music of Thelonious Monk.

All four actors are excellent, especially Kerry Washington.

You might want to give a listen to some Monk to cool things down a bit.

www.americansonplay.com

Photos:  Peter Cunningham

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KING KONG – The beast has landed. Kerplop!

November 17th, 2018 by Oscar E Moore
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Remember the original Gong Show?  Mid-70’s TV fare?  Where amateur talent might be stopped mid-act by the “striking of a large gong” putting an abrupt end to the dubious talent on view.  Every so often, especially before the beasts roaring, majestic entrance on the same stage that Ethel Merman wowed in GYPSY, I was hoping desperately that I could strike that old gong.  So ridiculous were the goings-on.

Remember CINERAMA?  Innovative 50’s film process where a deeply curved screen had you whizzing along in a roller coaster?  Projections seemingly putting you in the picture?  This process has been updated and improved tremendously by ARTISTS IN MOTION.  The projections in KING KONG are one of the true stars of this technological wonder.  Especially the rolling seas on board the SS Wanderer that almost induces seasickness or is it the script?

Remember when a musical had memorable music?   Real, tuneful songs with great lyrics?  Not just some cinematic background instrumentals (underscoring by Marius de Vries) that reminds one of the good ol’ MGM days or is it Victory at Sea? – With “songs” by Eddie Perfect.  Which they aren’t.  But KING KONG isn’t billed as a musical. So the powers that be say.  What is it then?

Based on the classic 1933 film (and its remakes) KONG has been adapted to the stage by none other than Jack Thorne who has been given the almost impossible task of writing the connective tissue that surrounds the beast.  It is most difficult to believe that he also wrote the terrific book for HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD.  Here we have one dimensional characters that can’t decide if what they are saying is meant to be dead serious or satirical.  The dialogue falls flat somewhere in between.

Unfortunately the actress portraying Ann Darrow (Christiani Pitts) who is “a warrior and not a damsel in distress” lacks just about everything and that is what brought back vivid memories of the infamous gong.  We never care about her.  She does however have a strong voice.

The opportunistic director Carl Denham (an earnest and determined Eric William Morris) searching for a star for his project to be filmed on Skull Island finds Ann in a diner, offers her the stardom she seeks and lots of glamorous outfits if she can scream on cue and look pretty.

Erik Lochtefeld as Carl’s assistant Lumpy comes off best.  He and the beast do some actual emoting on stage.

The beast is what will sell some tickets.  He is the star that doesn’t sing or dance or speak.  The show cost 35 million dollars to produce – with a list of producers almost as long as the large cast of characters on stage at the Broadway Theatre – one of the only theaters large enough to house the beast that is a mammoth marionette (creature designer Sonny Tilders) operated by ten marionettists/puppeteers in full view of the audience which diminishes the effect even though they are clothed in black.

But are people willing to shell out big bucks to see this gargantuan fiberglass marionette roar, pounce, leap tall buildings in a single bound, show off his pearly whites, roar, sniff, fall in love, roar, save Ann from another mammoth snake puppet, be captured roaring, brought back to New York to be the star of a ludicrous Dames at Sea type musical version of what we have just been suffering through, then running amuck through the streets of New York and finally going apeshit atop a high rise as planes shoot him down?

I suggest watching the video trailer on line instead.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/e6XsJ3y7L9s?controls=1&enablejsapi=1&modestbranding=1&rel=0&showinfo=0

For the record, the beast is 20 feet high.  2,000 pounds.  Computer operated along with the village of guys physically moving him around the stage.  This truly is magnificent.  Especially his eyes.  This silver back gorilla has its eyes on success in New York but unfortunately for all its technological wonders the production falls way short.  Great, bravo inducing Lighting Design (Peter Mumford) Sound Design (Peter Hylenski) and Kong/Aerial Movement Director, Gavin Robins.

This theme park looking production hailing from Melbourne (2013) is sadly misdirected and bizarrely choreographed by Drew McOnie.

Next!  Roll the credits, please.

www.kingkongbroadway.com

2 hrs. 30 minutes.  One intermission.

Photos:  Matthew Murphy

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THE OTHER JOSH COHEN – a clever, joyous off-Broadway mensch-ical

November 14th, 2018 by Oscar E Moore
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Finally, a respite from mediocrity.  A relief from rap and unrelenting horrible headlines.  A Rolaids-like cure for indigestible musicals can be found at the Westside Theatre/Downstairs in this very clever, tuneful and bouncy 90 minute escapist journey through the maze of Josh Cohen’s downtrodden yet uplifting, amazing life as he attempts to find love and do the right thing with integrity and honesty.  In other words being a “mensch.”

Actually there are two of him.  A case of double vision as the saga unfolds with the present Josh as a balladeer retelling what happened to him a year ago as we see the past Josh facing up to the fact that his apartment has been stripped of his most prized possessions including a Bundt cake resting in his fridge.  He is without a girlfriend, brokenhearted and broke.  Facing Valentine’s Day alone.  Again.  With only a Neil Diamond CD and kitty-cat calendar left behind by the robber.

They are dressed identically.  The narrator Josh (David Rossmer) is upbeat.  The past Josh (Steve Rosen) isn’t, a bit heavier and has a mustache.  They make beautiful music together.  In fact, they are both responsible for the very funny book, catchy music and spot on lyrics to this delightful modern morality tale superbly directed with minute attention to every detail by Hunter Foster.

If it is a bit slow to get started – after all they have to set up his character and loveless situation – it goes into high gear with the arrival of a check for 56,000 thousand dollars made out to Josh Cohen from an Irma Cohen in West Palm Beach Florida.

We might be one step ahead of the authors at this point after all the title of the show in THE OTHER JOSH COHEN but once the check arrives the authors are two, three and four steps ahead of us all to our great amusement as they zanily steer us through the maze of seemingly endless characters that Josh has to contact in order to decide what the right thing is to do regarding the check.

All the other characters are superbly rendered by the five versatile cast members who also play various instruments, sing backup and wear great wigs as they scamper around the stage in this very entertaining production.

They are Kate Wetherhead, Luke Darnell, Elizabeth Nestlerode, and scene stealers Louis Tucci (Josh’s dentist dad) and Hannah Elless (as Aunt Bea) – all doing justice to the almost stereotypical collection of characters that include Darth Vader and Neil Diamond.

For those feeling unloved and lonely and perhaps feeling that the world is against you and that fate has dealt you an unkind deck of cards you may discover the real underlying problem is you and that your outlook may need an adjustment.  In other words be a mensch.

Go.  Be kind and be honest and optimistic – don’t give up and it will turn out just fine.  If this sounds a bit Pollyannaish.  So be it.  Absolutely nothing wrong with that.  It’s the right thing to do.

Through February 24th 2019

www.otherjoshcohen.com

Photos:  Caitlin McNaney

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

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