Oscar E Moore

From the rear mezzanine theatre, movies and moore

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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

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

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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

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

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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

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

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

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

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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

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

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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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