News & Reviews from New York
       

April 26th, 2007
   
You want a lesson in musical timing? Go hear Annie Ross sing at the Metropolitan Room, 34 W. 22nd St., Tuesday nights at 7: PM. Yeah- THAT Annie Ross-- of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. Whoa! Backed by a sublime musical trio: Tardo Hammer on piano, Neal
Miner on bass and Jimmy Wormworth on drums, Ms. Ross, staying just ahead of the beat, weaves a spell with oldies but goodies- the best songs by the best writers. Hear the original scatter scat in "Twisted" ("My Analyst Told Me"). You've never heard timing
like Annie's in "I've Got Rhythm" by the Gershwins. She's unique, profound, stirring, a thrill-- it'll shake you (in a gentle caressing way). Get yo' ass out there! Catch a treasure!

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

I was so enthralled by the play FROST/NIXON by Peter Morgan, now on Broadway, and by the performances of Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, that I could barely take notes. The fourteen-performer play sets up and conducts the famous television interviews by David Frost of the deposed Richard Nixon, and really does seem to get inside the head of Nixon, played brilliantly by Langella, in one of the great stage performances I have ever seen (including Langella himself in "Dracula," John Malkevich in "Burn This," Christine Ebersole in "Grey Gardens" and Paul Robeson
in "Othello"). The final crumbling of "Tricky Dickie" is a never-to-be-forgotten experience, and Langella's face is vividly, permanently, etched in my mind. Michael Grandage has directed with taste, timing, and microscopic focus that pulls us in and
then further in. Christopher Dram's spare design, including the huge segmented TV screens upstage with Jon Driscoll's video design, and Neil Austin's lighting, all help meld this fascinating play, with ripples of contemporary political relevance, into a
spell-binding production of a play that excites the mind and our artistic receptivity with its wit and depth.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

       

April 19th, 2007
   
Went to a Backer's Audition for a terrific new musical-- took some notes. I don't usually write about shows this early in their incarnations, but this one deserves notice.

IDAHO, Morris Sheffield and Keith Thompson's musical saga about the potato state, is a really funny, right-on, takeoff on an R & H musical full of contemporary jokes which work whether or not you've ever seen "Oklahoma." The flip, clever dialogue and lyrics don't quit. The songs match and satirize "Oklahoma" in both words and music, with twists, including "Poor Ole Jed." There's even a dream ballet. The performers were top level Broadway, and
included Jennifer Perry, Rob Sutton, Chandra Lee Schwartz, Jacqueline B. Arnold, and a first rate chorus. The genre is the same as "Drowsey Chaparone," and I HAD A GREAT TIME. For more info: libbyzeppo@adelphia.net

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

       

April 16th, 2007
   
Vanessa Redgrave, in THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion, now on Broadway, is a great actress, but it's a tough show as a woman recounts the aftermath of her husband's death and then her daughter's. She doesn't sink into self-pity at all, but each of us grieves in our own way, and although "Magical
Thinking," the attempt to change reality, is a valid one, it's not my way. There is just a bit of wallowing in recollections of the daughter, and, for me, there being no tangents away from death and illness, made it just a tad long. Director David Hare has a good sense of timing and proportion in staging the piece, the lighting by Jean Kalman is just right, and Bob Crowley's set idea of a succession of silk curtains dropped after each major section of the play is brilliant. The costume Ms. Redgrave wears, designed by Ann Roth, is glaringly wrong: the top is an off-white, and light bounces off it, taking away from the expressive face above it. All in all, I'm glad I saw the very stately Ms. Redgrave once again
fill a theatre with her magnificent, magnetic presence.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

THE PIRATE QUEEN by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Richard Maltby and John Dempsey-- What a show! Action! Beautiful women! Strong men! Great voices led by the magnetic Stephanie J. Block who reminded me of Maureen O'Hara, and music from Les Miz-- (well almost, but I guess they can steal from themselves). Throw in Irish step dancing (the producers did "Riverdance"), a sad Irish flute setting a mood, a hilariously dressed Queen Elizabeth (the feisty, operatic Linda Balgord [dazzling costumes, real and absurd, by Martin Pakledinaz which go beyond magnificent-- an imaginative reflection of the 1500's]), and a huge, intricate set in which the brilliant Eugene Lee outdoes himself, with Kenneth Posner's exquisite lighting; add Graciela Daniele's thrilling choreography (aided by Carol Leavy Joyce's Irish input) of a battle dance, a wedding extravaganza, etc., and Frank Galati's imaginative direction of the large cast, his creation of beautiful stage pictures, and we have here a show that my companion that evening, a Theatre professor, said: "A
great musical- totally engaging-- not a dull moment." I loved Marcus Chait and William Youmans as villains, Jeff McCarthy, and the power of the large chorus of first rate singers, dancers and charmers. Was Grace O'Malley the first feminist? Did she really meet with Queen Elizabeth and discuss the fate of Ireland? Did
step dancing exist in the 1500's? Who cares? It's a great entertainment that will keep you entranced.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

       

April 09th, 2007
   
TAMMY GRIMES at the Metropolitan Room: It was a pleasure to visit with and spend time with one of our all time great performers. OK- she can't really sustain a note any more, but that doesn't matter-- it's the real Tammy Grimes up there, and her long-acknowledged comic timing is still active. She still radiates, still entertains every corner of the room. She has picked mostly humorous songs, but whether comic, sentimental or dramatic, and including a speaksong from "High Society," it's a pleasure. She gives us stories from her Broadway shows, and her
closer is Noel Coward's "A Talent to Amuse," and she really does have it. She'll be there again on April 12th.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com


THE NUMBER 14, at The New Victory on 42nd St. through April 15th, is a Canadian mask and movement theatre company portraying the various eccentric characters who might enter and exit a city bus. It is an entertaining variety of group and individual stints and stunts, actions and sounds. The group Mime movements are fun as they enact the inertial forces of starting and stopping, there is singing, clown shrieks, odd actions, noises, a pop song medley, a terrific acrobat dressed as an old lady, and there is a bit of low level humor stirred in-- jokes about peeing in your pants, snot, earwax, phlegm, coughing, and farting. The smaller kids in the audiences laughed a lot at that. There are old people, working people, thugs, a nerd, and a dash of Hip Hop. The six member company is amazing as they effect rapid changes of costume, physicality and attitude in this very entertaining one hour show that uses the rare device of Commedia-style masks as character base.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

       

April 02nd, 2007
   
Comden and Green's songs fit like a pair of gloves on KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler whose show MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY is now at The Oak room of the Algonquin. Her strong lyric voice and the comic timing of both in this compilation of scenes and songs from the work of C and G is totally delightful. KT's voice can be really pretty, and in a love song it's quite moving. Nadler's singing flows smoothly, and they blend into a charming duo-- a perfect combo with great style. This is a great cabaret show full of remembered songs, and you'll walk out smiling and humming.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

In Athol Fugard's new play EXITS AND ENTRANCES, based on his acquaintance with a prime South African actor, Primary Stages gives us a great actor, Morlan Higgins, playing a great ham as he gets ready to play Oedipus. You don't see performances with a rare power and charisma like this very often. His foil, a neat
balance for him even though playing a weaker character, right up there with him in performance strength, is William Dennis Hurley. The two, although not imitating in any way, reminded me a bit of Albert Finney and Tom Courtney in "The Dresser" in this
backstage drama. It's beautifully directed by Stephen Sachs, and with Shon Le Blanc's costumes, which have flair within the borders of the scenes, the fine simple set by Charlie Corcoran and Brian Nason's illuminating illumination, this is an award-level
production of this wonderful play in all areas. Higgins is magnificent as the actor he is playing ages, and his "To be or not to be" soliloquy from "Hamlet" is a unique, moving experience. Every theatre-lover should run to see EXITS AND ENTRANCES,
and every actor should run even faster.


Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

       

March 27th, 2007
   
DYING CITY by Christopher Shinn, now at Lincoln Center, is a peculiar play, peculiarly done. Half an hour into it I had no idea what it was about. Pablo Schreiber plays the part of a gay actor who visits the widow of his twin brother who was killed in Iraq and who is still in mourning, played by Rebecca Brooksher. They talk about the dead husband, and then it flashes back to the husband, also played by Schreiber, and back to the brother. Lots of talk, exposition, stories about the past of the men's family and their interactions. Flashback- big argument between the married couple- the twist: the dead husband didn't want a baby; the gay man wants to have one with her. Schreiber differentiates the brothers nicely, giving the gay one just a hint of mint, and the straight one an aggressive masculinity. Brooksher is quite good in
her interactions with both men. There is some really dull, uninteresting stuff like reading banal e-mail from the brother from Iraq, including an account of the circle of violence there, and one glaring impossibility: the gay actor, a very big, muscular man, is supposed to be playing Edmond, the wasting-away tubercular younger brother in Eugene O'Neil's "Long Days Journey into Night." Uh uh! I found most of DYING CITY to be not that interesting,
but the director, James MacDonald gussies it up with tricks-- a revolving stage (well-designed by Anthony Ward who also did the appropriate costumes), good stage movement patterns, an occasional emotional display, one actor in two parts. By the end I caught the premise, the underlying subtext of the play after
revelations about the dead brother and of the father of the men: the message is that homosexuality is genetic. It can be repressed by overly masculine behavior, but if it's there it's there, and denying it can lead to misery and even death. That idea, which
it took a very long time to get to, and the good acting, were, indeed, engaging.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

It can be fun when an opera company steps out of its genre and inflates a musical or light operetta to opera level. New York City Opera's production of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE is a marvelous, inventive production, with strong, handsome Broadway star Marc
Kudisch getting a chance to open up his pipes in this huge opera house. He's a perfect pirate king, and his underlying sense of humor shines through. The radiant, agile, perfectly-pitched beautiful voice of Sarah Jane McMahon as Mabel brings a new dimension to the part and Myrna Paris, Matt Morgan, Mark Jacoby, Kevin Burdette, and the entire cast and huge ensemble
of operatic singers all of whom are also dancers, gives the operetta a new dimension. With perfect costumes by Jess Goldstein and imaginative set by John Conklin, director Lillian Groag and choreographer Lynne Hockney plumb the piece for humor and give it a creative cohesion full of entertaining quirks.
Luckily there are supertitles, even though it's all in English, because the sound in this giant auditorium is echo-y and that muddies some of the lyrics. All in all- a magnificent piece of fun Theatre.


Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

       

March 16th, 2007
   
Eugene O'Neil's powerful drama of love, jealousy, betrayal, passion, "Desire Under the Elms," is looked at with a contemporary comedic sideways skew by Frederic Glover in his play DESIRE IN THE SUBURBS now at The Workshop Theater on W. 36th St. The drama is still there even with the comic slant. The very quirky Timothy Scott Harris as the son who aims at his father's young wife gives the play a lightness that can be off-putting in the beginning, but ultimately works as it maintains a consistency. He's part Norman Bates in this version. Baz Snider as the father is fine, and a wonderful actress, Dee Dee Friedman, doesn't have a moment that isn't true whether she's active or just listening. Director Kathleen Brant gives the play a pace that keeps us right in it, and she nicely utilizes the set by Tim Gobeliewski. O'Neil's work has been rewritten by a talented, bright playwright, and the reinterpretation gives us a thoroughly engaging evening in Theatre.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

BE, now at the Union Square Theatre, performed by Mayumana, is an amazing show. It's drumming and action, and is as tightly choreographed as a Busby Berkeley musical, with precise Mime exercises, precision drumming, planned wildness, and great
contemporary/futuristic costumes by Neta Haker. It has a bit of Cirque, Stomp, Blue Man flavor, but it is its own thing, and includes hamboning, black light, acrobatics, Flamenco, belly-dancing, all with great creativity, universality in movement and sound, order and chaos with order. The five superbly-trained
beautiful women's bodies are impossibly flexible-strong, agile, incredible, the men are strong, with a flair for humor. "The drums, Caruthers, the drums! The natives are restless!" The stage is a drum and rhythms and counter-rhythms are played on it and on
everything. Created and directed by Eylon Nuphar and Boaz Berman, who is in the show, the totally exciting BE has world-wide appeal in its artistry, the power of its performers, and its avoidance of words-- the few vocal sounds are international gibberish. BE is a great, joyful experience by an international
troupe of super performers.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

I went to New Haven to see MAN OF LA MANCHA, Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion's great musical, at The Long Warf Theatre. Beautifully re-imagined by director Charles Newell, this production has a deep coherence, a consistent stark, bleak, underworld tone, enhanced by John Culbert's set, Mark McCullough's lighting, sound design by Ray Nardelli and Josh
Horvath and costumes by Jacqueline Firkins. With outstanding performances by the mercurial Jim Corti as a vivid Sancho Panza, the beautiful, resonant Hollis Resnik as a strong Aldonza, and Stephen Wallem, who brings strength and warmth to his characterizations, and a very strong group of well-trained, experienced actors who bring the entirety to a top level, this is
a wonderfully exciting production. Except for the leading role of Don Quixote. Opera singer Herbert Perry is miscast in the lead. He's a terrific singer, but he doesn't stop singing even when he is
talking, and this is contrary to the style of the rest of the show where I fully believe the actors, their emotions, their actions. It's a real treat to experience this great show done so well. I'm still
hearing the songs in my head five days later. MAN OF LA MANCHA, with its message of hope, is one of the best of all musicals, and should live for many generations.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

       

March 12th, 2007
   
In part three of THE COAST OF UTOPIA Tom Stoppard continues exploring the hopes and naïvete of early Russian revolutionaries mid-1800's. Although the gorgeous pageantry designed by Bob Crowley and Scott Pask scattered throughout the play when there are short scenes with lots of people totally engage us
with their beauty and flowing imagination, the conversations do not, except when there is a break in form about them, such as a section in lively sprichstimme-a kind of lively spoken operetta with
music. Instead of seriously zeroing in on just a few events and getting inside them, we remain observers from the outside as we attend sketchy outlines of too many events. Brian F. O'Byrne comes through nicely believable in this section of the trilogy, and Martha Plimpton as a women between two men brings a dimension to her work that I haven't seen before. So here we have marvelous scenic design, fine costuming by Catherine Zuber,
terrific lighting by Natasha Katz, powerful music and sound by Mark Bennett, and long, not very thrilling conversations, many of them repetitions of arguments in parts one or two. Director Jack O'Brien is at his best when people are moving, especially crowds. So my favorite playwright, Stoppard, is unstoppered in his
logorrhea, and after three hours of the play, I applauded the hard work and dedication of the huge cast, designers and crew, and was glad it was over.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

       

March 06th, 2007
   
GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL! by Scott Brown and Anthony King gives us two wonderful comedians, Jeremy Shamos and David Turner, in a hilarious, absurdist interpretation of the adventures of the inventor of the printing press in 1450. Turner is a comedy star who can sing, dance, and has the clean movements of a
Mime. Shamos is a perfect foil for him. The songs and patter are clever, and it's directed and choreographed with flair and great comic timing by Alex Timbers. Innovative costumes by Emily Rebholz expand the concept of the two men playing multiple
characters. Though ridiculous, the show is a full-fledged musical with funny songs, good acting and a lot of laughs, and has a genuine comic sensibility in all departments. Like fun? Go!

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com


JOURNEY'S END, R.C. Sherriff's 1928 vivid anti-war slice of World War I trench life slams home the stupidity and brutality of war, and the basic innocence of the soldiers sent to the front to fight
in a hopeless situation. It is beautifully performed by a first rate English-accented cast, well directed by David Grindley, and underlighted by Jason Taylor. I know, I know- they want us to experience the half light of a real trench but it's a very long play with little respite from the gloom, and there were some nod-outs sitting near me. Not towards the end, though, as the sound of bombardment shook the theatre (sound design by Gregory Clarke)-- implying the inescapable doom of everyone. It's enthralling to experience the fine acting of this excellent ensemble, but "War is hell," and the inescapable, doomed,
downward slide of the future of these men ensnared in idiocy, although having particular resonance for Americans today, is a journey for true theatrephiles who don't want to miss the experience.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

       

February 26th, 2007
   
THE JADED ASSASSIN, now at The Ohio Theatre in SoHo, is the most exciting show in town. With dance, martial arts, acrobatics, mime and good stylized acting including a bit of mock Kabuki, this mythic tale of a woman warrior, spectacularly played by the miniscule star Jo-Anne Lee, gives us the best action since "Kill
Bill." All of the performers are very accomplished, fully mature artists with amazing skills. I have never seen stage choreography as complex prolonged into such extended sequences where any wrong move, any miss in the timing, could injure a performer. There are no glitches in this incredible show. Conceived and brilliantly directed by Timothy Haskell, with tongue-in-cheek script by Michael Voyer and amazing fight choreography by Rod Kinter, the show also includes shadow and other puppetry (puppets by Faye Armon and Haskell), a bit of black light, and other surprises, like people as puppets, that bring the humor and the drama in the piece to an even higher level. The innovation in this show is extraordinary, including costumes by Wendy Yang, set by Paul
Smithyman and lighting by Nick Hohn, and if you don't agree with me about how entertaining and thrilling it is, I'll give you a dollar.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com



You can count on The Mint Theater to find buried treasure and show it to us. They've scored once again with THE MADRAS HOUSE by Harley Granville-Barker, written in 1909. It's a gem of an antique that has, in its intricate family and societal exchanges and communications, much contemporary resonance, and it's
beautifully performed and directed. The cast is Broadway level, and includes Roberta Maxwell, George Morfogen, Lisa Bostnar, Jonathan Hogan. Laurie Kennedy, Ross Bickell, Mary Bacon, Thomas Hammond, some very beautiful young women in dual roles, and other totally full characterizations. The writing is sharp, smart, with a timeless feel, as we experience the interactions in the lives of the employees and the employers of a London women's clothing firm at a time without a safety net, and a morality that today seems like an anthropological study. Sets by Charles Morgan are well-conceived in function and attractiveness to create several environments, lighting by William Armstrong is just right and costumes by Clint Ramos range from just right to spectacularly beautiful in a great scene of a fashion show. The writing is full of insights into man/woman differences, and is chock full of humor. Gus Kaikkonen directs the large cast with skill and imagination. This is a marvelous old play performed by a first rate cast of professionals, and as it proceeds it becomes absolutely gripping. Treat yourself. It's long, three hours, but well worth it
to see how theatre at its best was a hundred years ago. For me, it's STILL Theatre at its Best.

Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and
lively-arts.com

       
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