News & Reviews from New York

April 22, 2003

There's an interesting play on at the West End Theatre: RAIN, RIVER, ICE, STEAM by S.L.Daniels. It's the rare work that has a spiritual center and deals with transformation- a kind of surreal dream play. A miracle rain has saved people from a fire, and it has an effect on the people of the town. It's a little bit "Alice in Wonderland" "Drink me!" and a touch of Carlos Castaneda as imbibing the water might make one see like a bird. The play is experimental, inventive, and even has humor in it as it expresses a thru-line
connection with nature. All of the acting by the cast of seven is excellent, and I especially liked 15 year old Molly Carden. Kimberly I. Kefgen's direction is lively, and she clearly brings out the idiosyncrasies of each character as, for some of them, the water opens "The Doors of Perception." Thru May 17th- 263 W. 86th St. 212/696-8931.

***1/2 Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER


April 20, 2003

Act One of the revival of the musical NINE, with book by Arthur Kopit and songs by Moury Yeston, is really two shows: one when Jane Krakowski is on the stage, and one when she is not. She enters and the stage light up- our eyes open wide, our anticipation tingles- something is happening! I want it to last. Jane is a Broadway show in herself, beautiful and sensual in her magical floaty costume by Vicki Mortimer. When she enters, drifting down from the flies, she's an angel; her ascending exit is a moment I'll never forget; she sings, her lovely voice reaches deep inside us. Then there's the rest of the show. It's okay. Cute moments. Antonio Banderas as the protagonist, the Fellini, the filmmaker, is cute, sings pleasantly. But Krakowski is a star. A standup turn by Chita Rivera, who also fills the theatre with her presence, is lots of fun. But the show is a different kind of musical, with about sixteen women and one man, and it is diffuse. People wander all over the stage. Okay, we see that Banderas has many women, but mostly they have nothing to do except wear costumes. Thank goodness for the beautiful, superb singer Laura Benanti in Act Two, and the surprising
Mary Stuart Masterson as the wife. Both are powerful, intense performers, and each brings a mastery to her characterization that helps hold the show together. So does Mary Beth Pell as Banderas' mother. I'd like to have seen more of Krakowski in Act Two. Aside from a lack of cohesion, tension, and a feeling that something is really at stake here, director David Leveaux misses one major thing (for me)-- ITALY! It's not really there in most of this production. Should you see the show? The choral singing, directed by Kevin Stites is super, and I wouldn't miss Jane Krakowski for anything.

**3/4 Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER


April 14, 2003

Alan Bennett has written a program of brilliant short plays, TALKING HEADS, and each that I saw in Program "B" is a polished gem shining with intelligence and wit. Valerie Mahaffey as a beautiful, naïve, uneducated actress, Daniel Davis as an ineffectual man in his fifties who takes care of his mother, and Lynn Redgrave as a woman of a certain age who has a
relationship with her chiropodist, all give sterling nuanced performances under the sure sensitive hand of director Michael Engler. Each piece is a little masterpiece in all departments, including costumes by Candice Donnelly and set by Rachel Hauck. This is a "Don't Miss" evening of terrific Theatre.

**** Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER

Eddie Izzard gives a star turn in "A Day in the Death of JOE EGG" by Peter Nichols, now on Broadway, bringing a gentleness to the very stylized character of the husband in a couple who have a totally disabled daughter whom they care for. It's an odd play which unconventionally breaks the convention of the "Fourth Wall," and each character addresses the audience
directly. Izzard gives great Fuddy Duddy as he shows us various doctors or a vicar, and keeps his performance underplayed in what is actually full-out
broad comedy, making this very heavy play humorous. Victoria Hamilton as his distraught wife, Margaret Colin and Michael Gaston as their wealthy WASP acquaintances, she icy, he blustering, Dana Ivey as his mother and little Madeleine Martin as the spastic daughter, are all fine performers, and they fill the stage and the theatre with their talent. Laurence Boswell's direction on Es Devlin's fine set keeps things alive and moving. For me, though, the play would lose nothing with a bit of trimming, especially
long speeches about the possibilities for the child. But Izzard is, indeed, worth seeing.

*** Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER


April 07, 2003

FROM WHERE I STAND is a dreamy but bright musical review, set in an upscale bar, that is very much about New York, with hymns to the city, including songs about Brooklyn, Manhattan, and city monuments like The
Yankees and Donald Trump. The charismatic Kim Cea, who, when she takes the stage, makes the whole room sparkle, leads the cast of five, all good singers, especially Adam Mastrelli. Debra Pitkin's intermittent turns about self-destructive neurosis are amusingly well done, and Albert M. Tapper's book and songs are quite entertaining as directed by Edie Cowan. Lanny Meyers cooks on the eighty-eight, and lifts the songs. I very much enjoyed the evening-- Tapper is bright, and his songs are engaging. What
does the show need to take it a step higher? One smash comedy number and a new title, perhaps as simple as "Manhattan Bar," or "Neurosis on the Rocks," or "I (heart) NY." Something I can remember so I can tell
my friends. And I do want to tell my friends-- I had a good time. At the West Bank, 407 W. 42nd St. 212/695-6909 thru April 18.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER


April 04, 2003

Some people love old time Vaudeville: Smith & Dale in The Doctor Sketch on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Three Stooges, British knockabout comedy and eccentric dancing. If you're one of them, you'll love the ridiculous, slapstick, corny, very British comedy review THE PLAY WHAT I WROTE. Sean Foley, Hamish McColl and Toby Jones recreate the antique schtick
with flair, falls, and fol-de-rol- Foley takes John Cleese's physicality to new heights of dementia with a rubber body like they don't make any more. Act 2 does a sendup of "The Scarlet Pimpernel" utilizing a guest star. The night I saw it John Lithgow cavorted with them, and it's always fun to see a star being ridiculous. The absurd set and costumes by Alice Power, particularly in the dungeon scene in Act 2 are hilarious, and so is the choreography by Irving Davies and Heather Cornell. If this foolish, funny nonsense is your cup of balderdash, you'll have a great time.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER


April 03, 2003

URBAN COWBOY is a really good Country-Western musical with the sexiest, most gorgeous chorus on Broadway-all great, energetic dancers and singers, costumed, men and women, as eye-candy by Ellis Tillman,
choreographed with great originality and joy by Melinda Roy in the most sensuous, colorful leaps and wriggles in town. With a pastiche of old hits, the music jumps and flows. Jenn Colella, the lead, is a real star: gamin beauty, totally riveting charisma, with a fine voice and an amazingly fluid body, and good lookin' Matt Cavenaugh as the self-destructive, but sympathetic cowboy has a lovely singing voice, and the right bumpkin air for the part. Backed by Sally Mayes, Leo Burmester, Jody Stevens, and Marcus Chait as the perfect villain, the entire cast is top Broadway level. The show is about working class aspirations. It's unsophisticated longings are
presented with great sophistication by director Lonny Price on James Noone's amazing set, all accented perfectly by Natasha Katz' s lighting. During the dance numbers, the audience was grinning, tappin', head-bobbin', and "Lookin' for Love in All the Wrong Places" is still tripping in my head. We had a lot of fun.

*** 7/8 Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER


March 31, 2003

Not many people could attempt to be Katherine Hepburn- the voice, the cheekbones, the classical tone. Kate Mulgrew in TEA AT FIVE by Matthew Lombardo gives an awfully good impression- accent, gestures, the full
look and sound, as she Hepburns around the stage as both the younger Kate, up to "The Philadelphia Story," and the older one, complete with tremors, to the end. Ms. Mulgrew is a fine actress, quite believable and
quite entertaining in her role. The play, however, is not fascinating throughout. There are some interesting insights into her life, some clever lines, like a few John Barrymore quotes, and there's fun in the familiar: names of movies, actors, directors, events and adventures in her shaky rising career. In Act 2 she is the palsied older woman, and she does
command our attention. But the play seems to need some leavening with humor, or perhaps scenes from plays or movies she did, some theatrical excitement. Director John Tillinger has plumbed the material well, and does his best to keep it moving on Tony Straiges fine set. Jess Goldstein's costumes are just right, and Paul Huntley's wigs are amazing. After seeing
this performance, I'd love to see Ms. Mulgrew in a play with stature- she's a commanding presence with great range.

*** Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and

LIFE (X) 3 by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton, now on Broadway, starts as a light domestic comedy long on a crying child for the first 30 minutes and short on brilliance as a couple comes to the home
of another for dinner a day early. There is a lot of domestic bickering and an occasional funny line. Then the same night is played again, with a different
slant, and it becomes more interesting, and then, once again, a third time, with other mood, character and plot implications. This includes some French
inter-couple flirtatious moofky-foofky with pretentious scientific horseshit thrown in. With the splendid cast, Helen Hunt, John Turturro, Brent Spiner
and Linda Edmond spinning the nonsense into theatricality, LIFE (X) 3 is ultimately quite an enjoyable evening of theatre with a dash of
experimentation and a touch of intellect in it. Designer Mark Thompson utilizes the round stage of Circle-in-the-Square with great understanding of the space; lighting by Hugh Vanstone augments well. Director Matthew Warchus, by allowing the irrepressible Turturro to fly where his impulses take him, yea unto dancing, certainly "gets it" as he makes the play as theatrical as possible.

*** 1/2 Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER,


March 24, 2003

Theatre lovers are in luck. One of New York's great actresses is on stage again. Tovah Feldshuh plays Golda Meir in GOLDA'S BALCONY at the Manhattan Ensemble Theatre, 55 Mercer St. in SoHo: 212/925-1900.
It's a powerfully-moving tour-de-force performance of the life of the leader of Israel, a woman who is both strong and vulnerable, beginning as a young Zionist and leading up to the fateful critical events when she is Premier in a time of war. There is an amazing set by Anna Louizos suggesting a bunker, which is used as the screen for projections by Batwin & Robin. As
directed by Scott Schwartz, Ms. Feldshuh's many characterizations, accents, physicalizations, as she becomes the people she talks about, are all clear, clean, separate, and fully realized. In GOLDA'S BALCONY, history is vividly brought to life by a brilliant actress in an inspired performance filled
with high drama and leavened with humor.

**** Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and


March 21, 2003
It's been a lucky week: two terrific musicals in a row. Appropriate for the first day of Spring.

ZANNA DON'T!, is a gay "Grease," and is as much fun as a cheery, bouncy musical about love in high school can be. It's a topsy-turvy world where gay is the norm, and conservatives can be shocked by the idea of heterosexuality. There are sequins on the football captain's uniform, and he's going to be in the school musical. Written by the very clever Tim Acito,
directed and choreographed with great flair by Devanand Janki, with a cartoon set by Wade Laboissonniere and Tobin Ost, and a talented,
singing/dancing cast that includes probably the prettiest performer on or off-Broadway, Jai Rodriquez in the title role of Zanna. He can really sing,
dance, prance and camp. And Anika Larsen is a star: her strong charisma and great voice portend a bright future. The songs are catchy and memorable; several could be hits, including a go-fast country one. Don't
go see this show unless you want to have a great, smiling, jumpin' time at a totally fun-filled musical.

**** Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and

If a musical review is first rate, it can last, be fully entertaining years later, if it is done well by a top notch cast of Broadway-level singers. The current revival of A...MY NAME IS ALICE, as directed by Adam M. Muller is as entertaining today as it ever was. It has energy, verve, lively sparkle and real
voices, most of them directly from Broadway. Soara-Joye Ross is, to me, outstanding, but the rest, Ellie Dvorkin, the comic lead, who did the zippy
choreography, Jennifer Allen, Avery Sommers and Donna Vivino are all up there with the best on Broadway. Now at The Producers Club II on 9th Ave. thru March 30th, this show deserves to move to a bigger theatre for a long run. It's first rate entertainment directed with great sensitivity as well as the pulse and energy of a musical review.

**** Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and


March 17, 2003

29th St. Rep. is living up to its history of presenting exciting theatre with Charles Willeford's HIGH PRIEST OF CALIFORNIA, a fifty year old Noir
oddity of a play. It's serious, comic, old fashioned, and very entertaining to a contemporary audience as we see the shenanigans of a used car salesman as he manipulates a punchy ex-boxer, and the boxer's wife. We have the classics: a vulnerable woman and a wise guy who knows his way around the lower levels of society, played to the hilt by a first rate cast including David Mogentale, Carol Sirugo, James E. Smith, Paula Ewin, Jerry Lewkowitz and Tim Corcoran. Intrigue, sex, snappy dialogue, all directed with crisp timing by Leo Farley on Mark Symczak's fine set. Catch this one if you can-thru March 29th. 212/206-1515.

***3/4 Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and


March 10, 2003

Scottish singer Morag McLaren is a major talent with a terrific voice, and her comedy is bright, original and brilliant. She's sort of a Lily Tomlin in the depth and breadth of her portrayals, but the characters she depicts are all singers. Her voice has great range: from opera to musical comedy to a breathtaking Scottish folksong. This is a world class performer in a honed and seasoned act who will transport you to the highest level of cabaret delights.

**** Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and

Although the entire cast is fine, there are two great performances in the flawed but rather interesting play STRING FEVER by Jacquelyn Reingold now at The Ensemble Studio Theatre as part of their Science in Theatre
program. Cynthia Nixon glows, and brings a total inner life and conviction to her portrayal of a woman whose husband had a mental breakdown, left her, and broke her heart, and her involvement with a physicist. Evan Handler is vividly alive as her sarcastic but vulnerable friend. Flaw? Not all that serious in an actor-driven play: Too much explanation unto boredom about the String Theory of the makeup of the physical universe in physics. Mary B. Robinson has directed the material clearly, putting as much movement into the staging as she can to keep it all moving, and the two performances alone are worth the trip to West 52nd St.

*** Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and

I went to see the current cast of Mel Brooks' THE PRODUCERS. Boy! What a show! It's still a brilliant comedy, full of laughs, with super performances by
Brad Oscar, Roger Bart, John Treacy Egan, Brad Musgrove, Gary Beach and, as Ulla the night I saw it, Charley Iazabella King. Robin Wagner's set which goes beyond ordinary bounds in its extravagance, Susan Stroman's absurd choreography, hilarious costumes by Wiliam Ivey Long, all make this show The King of Broadway- and "It's good to be the king."

**** Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and


March 04, 2003

I saw two exciting plays this week, each full of energy, talent, imagination, and intense theatrical depth, both produced by the Labyrinth Theatre Company.

DIRTY STORY, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, is at the Harold Clurman Theatre on W. 42nd St. Shanley is brilliant, funny, scintillating, engrossing, enchanting; he is a unique dramatist who gives us an outpouring of ideas of real intellectual import- with a touch (almost) of Thomas Harris-or is it?, and a bit of "Hellzapoppin'" thrown in. It's a study of narcissism in a writer, partly Absurd Theatre, full of theatrical surprises, with a suburb cast, each with a vivid unforgettable character: David Deblinger, Florenzia Lozand, Chris McGarry, Michael Puzzo, all playing archetypes: Artist, Worker, Cowboy, Bartender. Shanley's theatrics take you on a trip,
and expand the limits of what can be done. Set by Michelle Malavel, costumes by Mimi O'Donnell and lighting by Jeremy Morris fully fulfill Shanley's vision. The play stands on the shoulders of Brecht, and is the most oblique anti-war statement in town.

**** Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and

OUR LADY OF 121ST ST. by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is virtually plotless: the devise of a dead nun's body being stolen from the funeral home gives an excuse for many of the characters in the neighborhood who knew her to stay around and interact with each other. And they do. Black and white, gay and straight, rough, tough, trayed, betrayed, ofayed, splayed; brown, uptown, get down- the language is strong, the tirades long, in and out, see, shout, love, hate, it doesn't quit. It'll hold you: domestic bliss, piss, vinegar, the language of today: intense, dense, don't mess with me m....r-f....r! Get it? What's the story? It's a morning glory- a burst of color, and it's gone. Good, powerful acting, with a flavor found only in New York.

*** 3/4 Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and

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