News & Reviews from New York

August 27th, 2004

A classic "Dracula" is already a satire because of its familiarity, and in DRACULA THE MUSICAL, with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton and music by Frank Wildhorn, they do start off with familiar references and jokes like "She is of good blood," which get laughs. But that's about it. The rest of the written and composed show is stiff and clunky, with derivative songs that mostly hold up the action. However-- the design team gives us amazing visuals that never quit. We walk out, classically, "whistling the set." Heidi Ettinger's innovative, active, gliding, transforming set combined with Howell Binkley's fearless lighting gives us effects of a real horror show with flying furies and a floating Dracula (staged by Rob Besserer-with Flying by Foy) and gothic castles. With fine costuming by Catherine Zuber, some
of the best sound design on Broadway, by Acme Sound Partners, and projections by Michael Clark, I only wished the rest of the show was as engaging as the stunning visuals. All of the performers are strong Broadway singers; the leads, Tom Hewitt, Melissa Errico and Kelli O'Hara, are all true singing stars and fine actors, and a pleasure to hear and see. But the songs, staged statically, put me into plateaus of boredom while I waited for Heidi's next visual kick. Very unevenly directed by Des McAnuff, this DRACULA is something not to be missed by design and lighting
students. For the rest of us, well.........

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

HAOLE, written and performed by Cindy Keiter, the daughter of Hall of Fame sportscaster Les Keiter, directed by Padraic Lillis, gives us stories from her and her father's lives, about living and surfing in Hawaii, and about sportscasting. She is a good-looking, engaging athlete and actress, and her personal charm and good nature infuse the piece as her stories, including a demonstration of surfing, unfold. I enjoyed my visit to her life- full of humor and
some quite touching moments-- very much, but I don't think I'll start surfing just yet.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and

Matthew Holtzclaw, a young writer from Florida, has written a gripping Southern play, mostly about people who are psychologically heavily damaged or deteriorated in some way- survivors of the garbage heap of working class life, including "special" ones: retarded, palsied, autistic, alcoholic. It's a very
special piece of theatre, and Holtzclaw has a keen ear for the idiosyncrasies of Southern working class speech. A repressed young man who cares for his handicapped twin brother meets a lost young woman who is sinking into alcohol. The play, CANE'S BAYOU, is about the effect they have on each other and on the
lives of those around them. Rachel Plotkin, a tall, beautiful actress, with a sense of humor, fine timing, and the ability to play nuance, is riveting. She has the potential of a Julia Roberts-- she shines as the girl. Michael McElroy and Betsy Winchester are
particularly good as two retards, and the rest of the cast are all quite enjoyable. Holtzclaw, in the role of the young man, is a fine and subtle actor as well as a strong dramatic playwright-- one to be watched for.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER, and


August 21st, 2004

Bebe Neuwirth is breath-taking in her Kurt Weill musical cabaret show HERE LIES JENNY now at The Zipper Theatre on West 37th St. It's set in a deteriorated basement, and somehow the strung-together Weill songs, with lyrics by several writers (mostly Bertold
Brecht), as directed by Roger Rees, seems to make coherent dramatic sense. Starting with expressionistic Sturm and Drang, the show takes flight as Bebe reveals more of her inner self as a sublime dancer, and her superb body mesmerizes the audience
with its fluidity as her distinctive voice tickles the songs, grinds them, caresses them. Ed Dixon big voice gives life to the barkeep, Anthony Fraboni, a leading man if there ever was one, is smooth and strong as her principal dance partner, and Julio Monge is fine as the fourth voice and mover in the quartet. The only problem with the show for me is that the pianist, Chris Fenwick, who is mostly perfect as he lifts the songs with his accompaniment, seems to get carried away with his playing as songs reach their climaxes, and he fights the singer for attention. Uh uh! The set by Neil Patell, lighting by Frances Aronson and costumes by Kaye Voyce all properly enhance the proceedings, and Ann Reinkings's strong, subtle, imaginative choreography helps the show fly. The
Zipper, with the back seats of automobiles as its seats, is a perfect venue for showcasing the brilliant, delectable, magical, dazzling Bebe.

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

NIGHT and HOTEL, two one acts by Raimundo Cortese, is a perfect showcase for the abilities of two talented Australian actresses, Dana Miltins and Chloe Gardner. NIGHT is an encounter with Pernod as two women in a café find more and more attraction between them as they get drunker. The sexual tension builds as they express their frustration with life and men, and there is a broader comment on the basic emptiness of people's lives. Both actresses are excellent, with Gardner physically tighter and Miltins more laid-back as the two pace themselves to the startling conclusion. In HOTEL Mitlins seems to have lost ten
pounds, and Gardner to have gained ten as they play cleaning women with totally different physicalities, personalities and rhythms. Directed with a fine sense of timing by Dominic Pedlar, the actresses take us on an enjoyable trip to working class Australia.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER,


August 12th, 2004

FOREVER TANGO on Broadway: The dance is spectacular-
smoldering sexuality, clean elegant amazingly intricate movements as the couples glide, smooth as silk, into effortless lifts and daring endings to the numbers. There is a beautiful, slow, adagio number
with the woman in tights instead of the flashy slit skirts of the rest of the show, and there are two comic dances, one in each half. A great, thrilling dance show, in full Tango mystique, with emotionless faces and smoldering eyes, where men are men and women are women and don't they know it.

Then there is the rest of it. I thought going to a show called FOREVER TANGO it would be essentially a dance performance. Foolish me. In the course of the two act, two hour and ten minute show, there are seven orchestral numbers and two renditions of songs by a solo singer that make up at least half of the evening. I did enjoy solos by the pianist and the first violinist, but four accordions and strings may be your cup of music-- for me it grew tiresome. (The friend I was with loved it all.)

So, with patience, you'll see some of the most exciting dance in town.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER,


August 6th, 2004

THE FROGS, now at Lincoln Center, billed as "A New Musical," is only about 2400 years old. Based on the play by Aristophanes, adapted by Burt Shevelove, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and re-adapted by Nathan Lane, the show is the broadest of farces, dripping with imagination, sparkle and laughs. It's not a great play, but Susan Stroman has directed and
choreographed this mixture of Greek myth, contemporary
political commentary, and absurdity with brilliance, imagination and flare. With Nathan Lane, possibly the greatest cavorter of our time, cavorting as the lead Dionysos, aided and abetted by the wonderful farceurs Roger Bart, Peter Bartlett and John Byner and a cast of dancing frogs (a choreographic masterpiece), nymphs, rope dancers, gymnasts, Stroman gives us a spectacular, mostly entertaining extravaganza. Ingenious set by Giles Cadle, great costumes by William Ivey Long and perfect lighting by Kenneth
Posner all add to the flavorful mix Stroman has created. A small "however": for some unfathomable reason the authors have veered away from farce in a short section of Act 2 to give us a useless, dull, boring argument between Shakespeare and G.B. Shaw. One comparison would have been enough-they give us
four. It's an intellectual argument that seems like it's out of another play. When they get back to farce, the jokes and the fun, the basic high level entertainment of the show, resumes.

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

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