News & Reviews from New York

April 29th, 2004

The current FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, directed by David Leveaux, is a great spectacle with an imaginative set by Tom Pye, good lighting by Brian MacDevitt, and a mixture of good costumes and anachronisms (village men in 1905 didn't wear Hassidic black and white) by Vicki Mortimer, with terrific (the original) choreography by Jerome Robbins. The great songs all work well, all the women sing beautifully, and, all in all, it's a pretty good FIDDLER, and since Zero Mostel or Hershel Bernardi are not doing their versions across the street, it's worth seeing. However-- although Randy
Graff makes a good Golda, missing in Alfred Molina's Tevya are the sparkling peaks of joy, deep moving sadness, and eviscerating frustration that the part really needs. This version doesn't break your heart (they'll all be okay: they'll go to America)- but it does entertain you, particularly with a star turn by one of the funniest physical comedians you'll see anywhere ever-- John Cariani as Motel. He tops Roberto Begnini.

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

Hugh Jackman is a phenomenon: the very rare "Matinee Idol." He's a rocket, a flare, a slinky-- joy fills the theatre and the women kvell and the men grin broadly at everything he does. His voice is
thrilling, with almost a Willy Nelson resonance and nasality, his lean springly body flashes, bounces around the stage; he twists like Jim Carrey. And he does standup interaction with the audience between his episodes in the life of cabaret performer/songwriter Peter Allen who knew Judy Garland and married her daughter Liza. With the look-alike/sound-alike Isabel
Keating as Judy and the excellent Stephanie J. Block as Liza, with the amazing Mitchel David Federan as the young Peter, a super singing/dancing chorus, director Philip Wm. McKinley gives us a first class Broadway musical comedy, with fun choreography by Joey McKneely, in a fine set by Robin Wagner, polished off with a Las Vegas finale costumed with outrageous flair by William Ivey Long. A good time was had by all.

*** 2/3 Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER,


April 26th, 2004

Lorraine Hansberry's profound, funny, powerful play, A RAISIN IN THE SUN, now on Broadway, is as poignant and relevant today as it was in 1959 when it was first produced. This story of the struggles of a black family in Chicago in the 1950's to survive, to grow, to make it in a difficult, frustrating world, is a gripping domestic drama with a fine cast. Hansberry is a wonderful writer with a keen ear for the nuances of the flow of people's speech and deep insight into their inner workings. The penetrating humanity of her writing creates an empathy in the audience that is emotionally and spiritually uplifting. Audra McDonald and Phylicia Rashad are superb as the wife and mother of the troubled man of the house, played by Sean Combs, who does a good job in his first Broadway role. Sanaa Lathan brings a dimension of pure entertainment to her role as an aspiring doctor as she dances, and her smile and spark light up the stage. Young (former Simba) Alaexander Mitchell is the perfect cub with a mind of his own, and both Teagle F. Bougere and David Aarom Baker perfectly fill their roles as quintessential African and quintessential white bigot with verve and conviction. Director Kenny Leon, aided and abetted by Thomas Lynch (set), Paul Tazewell )(costumes) and Brian MacDevitt (lighting), gives us a splendid production that will move you, shake you, make you laugh, and ultimately touch you down deep in your soul.

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


April 21st, 2004

Stephen Sondheim's ASSASSINS, about famous killers and
would-be killers (like John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinkley, Squeaky Fromme)) of famous people (like Lincoln, Kennedy, Sharon Tate), with songs by Sondheim and book by John Weidman, is a piece of expressionist theatre that occasionally works as vibrant musical drama, but often sinks into inane verbiage. Lyrics and melodies, as ever, are Sondheim
clever, but the combination of Weidman's protracted wordiness by some of the miscast actors (one, a good singer whose accent is incomprehensible, another who moves well but can't sing) gives us the mixed-up mess of an interesting idea. Although a lot of the show is muddled, a couple of two-person scenes work quite well
and will grab you: Becky Ann Baker as Sara Jane Moore and Mary Catherine Garrison as Squeaky, and Garrison with Alexander Gemignani as Hinkley, and-- Neil Patrick Harris is an appealing singer. The magnetic presence of the powerful singing and acting star Mark Kudisch is basically wasted in a minor role. The worst
scene to me is a lot of horseshit about past assassins convincing Oswald to shoot Kennedy. All in all, this "Madness of Stephen S.", although well designed by Robert Brill (set), Susan Hilferry (costumes) and Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (lighting), is an
experiment in contrariness that, with the uneven casting and direction by Joe Mantello, doesn't work as expensive Broadway theatre.

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


April 20th, 2004

Rene Ruiz is a Sound Genius. His show TOXIC AUDIO in
LOUDMOUTH, now at the John Houseman Theatre, uses five
human voices, amplified, modulated and reverbed, to create the entire sound: clear voices and accompaniment (mostly reverberating bass sounds), giving us sound counterpoints of sustained notes and rhythms. All the voices are top level, and,
reminiscent of The Swingle Singers, an a capella group from my past, their straight performances of some songs like "Stand By Me" and "The Rose" are also first rate. Outstanding in the excellent cast is charismatic Paul Sperrazza, who is a mime, a physical comedian, and a fine singer. He's a star performer
who reaches Danny Kaye levels. But they're all terrific, and Ruiz, the primary bass sound singer, who conceived and directed the show, aided and abetted by David Brooks (costumes) and Peter R. Feuchtwanger (set and lights), has given us a smashing, rare evening of unusual musical entertainment.

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


April 15th, 2004

Frank Langella is a theatrical treasure. In MATCH, by Stephen Belber, zippily directed by Nicholas Martin, with a fine set by James Noone, now on Broadway, he has a great time (and so do we) as he plays a former dancer/choreographer in a camp caricature with a tres gay sensibility. It's full of amusing banter as he interacts with an interviewing couple, the grim Ray Liotta and the delicate, sensitive Jane Adams who prompt him to talk about his life and times. The play has an overabundance of exposition, but Langella's performance is marvelous (if a bit overdone at times), but he is that rare entertainer who can hold you no
matter what he says. It's his play-the others are there basically as a sounding-board for him to blow. Is it entertaining? Absolutely. Is it a well-written play? No- it's overdone, predictable, has tangents that seem to be inserted just as an excuse for Langella to perform. Should you see it? Of course.
Run- buy a ticket immediately (if not sooner)-- you don't want to miss a moment of Langella.

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


April 1st, 2004

SLY FOX by Larry Gelbart and Moliere, is a splendid farce with the entire cast made up of star farceurs. They don't make better than the comic master Bob Dishy, whose takes reveal hilariously what he is thinking, delivering Gelbart's priceless lines. Rene
Auberjonois' gives us an absurd Pantalone, with an impossible crablike physicality, hobbling ridiculously on the stage; Bronson Pinchot, looking almost like Laird Cregar, is magnificent-- strutting, twitching and cringing; and Richard Dreyfuss gets to do three characterizations: the very sick miser, the lively, scheming miser, and as a splashy judge, where Dreyfuss tops himself in comic performance. His physical comedy throughout the show is a surprise and a delight. The strong, handsome Eric Stoltz is the
center that holds the play together, and he is perfect-full of mischievous life and great charm. Peter Scolari does a preposterous turn as an overwrought police chief, and the two women, Rachel York and Elizabeth Berkley, are stunningly beautiful, and York can act (Berkley doesn't have to). The set
by George Jenkins and Jesse Poleshuck is fabulous, as are costumes by Albert Wolsky and lighting by Peter Monat. Arthur Penn has once again directed with the sure hand of the master- making all the fol-de-rol seem possible, all with unbeatable comic timing. If you go to the theatre to cry and suffer, this is not
for you. If you go to laugh, SLY FOX is the one to see.

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

Want to hear a great Country singer? In fact, a whole cast of real singers with style and fine voices? Go see JOHHNY GUITAR at Century Center. I could listen to Judy McLane all night, and in this takeoff on the Joan Crawford movie, written by Nicholas Van
Hoogstraten with music by Martin Silvestri and lyrics, direction and some music by Joel Higgins, McLane fills the theatre with her voice, her presence, her stylized portrayal of a Western diva. Steve Blanchard, in the title role, is big, strong in body and voice, and his occasional character twitches are truly funny, and Robert Evan as the chief villain, The Dancin' Kid (who can't dance) is a good foil. The whole show is fun, and director Higgins has great comic insight in this incisive satire. Set by Van Santvoord and costumes by Kaye Voyce nicely enhance the proceedings, and a good time is had by all.

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


March 25th, 2004

SARAH, SARAH by Daniel Goldfarb, now at Manhattan Theatre Club, has a fine set by James Noone. The play is a lightweight piece of almost comical fluff, including an overweight transvestite in his fifties nicely played by Richard Mazur. Although the first
act is set in 1961, it has the sensibility of 1936 (or perhaps 1913-- Pogroms are referred to) when a Polish mother (J. Smith-Cameron- out of her element), in simplistic "kitchen sink" domestic arguments, which get lamer as the play progresses, rejects her son's fiancée (a mannered Lori Prince) because she is poor, and has a fit when she finds her son wants to study Philosophy instead of Dentistry. 1961 was not Clifford Odets time-- the depths of the Depression. The act segues into unconvincing melodrama. The next generation, in 2001, goes to China to adopt a baby, and the act begins with bad sit-com jokes about
constipation, awful, irritating bickering between a father (Mazur) and daughter (Cameron-Smith in her element) and boring exposition. It seems to be a tract against buying a pig in a poke. Hello? The writing is at the level of a good college-level play-
way way below what a paying audience wants to see. Some of it is idiotic, some just boring, some is just misdirected by Mark Nelson. But what can you do with a sow's ear? Don't you love it when people talk to a bundle of cloths (a baby) with a sentimental monologue about things we already know? And about love being most important? In this final scene, Mazur moved
himself to tears.

* Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and


March 20th, 2004

MINISTRY OF PROGRESS, created and directed by Kim Hughes from a play by Charlie Morrow, is another semi-Brechtian show about a mythical dictatorship with a Kafkaesque maze: a man trapped by bureaucracy- an innocent in a strange and hostile surreal nightmare world. But this show makes Kafka seem like Neil
Simon- it's simplistic nonsense with no clear intention or point. It feels like the inmates of a schizophrenic ward, all of whom can sing really well, are putting on a show set in a bizarre world. It's
even got a children's song-- for Peter Rabbit??!!? Although the acting is uneven, the singing is excellent, thanks to musical director/arranger Christian Martirano, but it all seems a waste of these fine voices lost in uninteresting rhetoric. Unfortunately they often tend to sing at you rather than to you or to each other. Some performances stood out: Christian Whelan's acting and singing is Broadway level, and I'd love to see him in a more
interesting show. Maia A. Moss and Gary Marachek put power into their singing, and the band is super under conductor Tommy Farragher who does a great job of trying to turn the work of eleven composers into something viable. It's not his fault that it's not. Nor is it the fault of Adriana Serrano's set or Fabio Toblini's costumes. It's the writing and directing that fails.

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


March 17th, 2004

In the play EMBEDDED, written and directed by Tim Robbins, we learn that the media lies to the public and that the government controls the media. Gosh! I never knew that. We also learn that Tim Robbins is a better director than writer. The most interesting
part of his show is the projections of dazzling old war films and splay of lights during the scene changes. The rest is simplistic Agit-prop polemic diatribe, mostly declaimed in a Brechtian manner, including masks for Bush's cabinet, but without Brecht's innovative theatrical tangents and delights. EMBEDDED is basically a boring show with very uneven acting, some of it truly awful, some of it quite good, as in a scene between an Iraqi doctor and a captured American woman, with some loud music, shooting and
yelling occasionally to wake us up. Since it describes past events (the Iraq war) and prescribes nothing, and we don't at this time have a time machine to go back and fix anything that's already happened, I'm not sure to what end Mr. Robbins exposes us to his
well-meaning harangue. If you want to preach beyond the choir, you have to draw us in, not shout things we, the left, the critics and condemners of inhumanity, already know.

* Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and


March 2nd, 2004

Barbara Brussell is not only a top-level cabaret singer, she's also smart. She picked one of the best, most profound, serious and humorous lyricists, Alan Jay Lerner, and built a cabaret act on his songs The captivating melodies of Frederick Loewe and the
brilliant lyrics of Lerner resonate beautifully thru Brussell's lovely voice. She exudes warmth, charm, and charisma, and songs from Brigadoon." "Camelot, and Burton Lane's '...Clear Day..." are brought to vivid life by this engrossing singer. I caught her at
Danny's on West 46th St., and she'll be there again with this show April 2nd and 3rd at 9:30 PM. 212/265-8137. Check Danny's for the dates of her other show: "The Piano Bench of my Mind."

Richmond Shepard--


March 2nd, 2004

BUG by Tracy Letts, now at the Barrow Street Theatre, is a naturalistic slice of motel life among working class Oklahomans performed by actors with a sense of being that is seldom seen on the stage today. We are looking thru the wall where a real life seems to be going on. Shannon Cochran, Michael Shannon, Amy
Landecker, Michel Cullen and Reed Birney are a rare acting ensemble, directed with an enthralling sense of timing by Dexter Bullard. This is what "The Method" was about- it meant real people with genuine emotions. Lauren Helpern's super-real set with Tyler Micoleau's subdued lighting create the depressed, edge of town motel on the outskirts of urban scrawl. Sound design
by Brian Ronan nicely underlines the work. A woman, her criminal ex-husband, a strange man, her lesbian friend, and an infestation of bugs. Or is it? The reality segues into paranoid melodrama conspiracy theory. Is it paranoia? Are the bugs real? Is it an
army experiment gone wrong? Is it all craziness or not? Bug has some of the best acting and directing in town, and has a dramatic last moment that is unforgettable. It's a theatrical event- a rare chance to see this most compelling style of realistic acting.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and

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