News & Reviews from New York
December 19th, 2014

Most comedians and comic actors hide behind a mask, real or scripted, that allows them to play the character that has made them famous or infamous. Once stripped away, these actors become their real selves and generally the “real’ human is nothing like their stage alter ego.

When John Epperson stepped onto the stage and seated himself behind the baby grand, we couldn’t see LYPISNKA, his stage persona, in which he becomes Joan Crawford or other divas.

Mr. Epperson’s show, SHOW TRASH, which he wrote, with additional parody lyrics by Tom Orr and Barry Kleinbort, who directed the show with focus and flair, is a revealing insight into the man behind the big wigs, tight dresses, and over the top Hollywood icons of the past. Standing on the near bare stage with video projections of his life before LYPSINKA, we were brought into the warm world of what is a gentle man who found his doppleganger, and inhabited his famous divas only when the lights came up on the musical numbers made famous by past greats.

I first saw LYPSINKA in the 80’s in a Mexican drag club in Los Angeles on a specially promoted night called SIT AND SPIN. Besides Lypsinka, the stage was filled with go-go boys and girls who were able to take a break when Epperson went on-- he was a performer who needed no frills or semi-nude dancers to fill the stage. This was LYPSINKA, and when she crossed to center stage the audience was well aware they were seeing something special.

Mr. Epperson’s show “SHOW TRASH,” is just himself and his recollections of his past: growing up in Mississippi, and his adventures on the road. Many of these stories are set to music, filled with his adventures as rehearsal pianist for the American Ballet Theater. They gave blossom to the full range and depth of his experience and his efforts to be on the stage rather than off in the wings.

His singing, always on key, reminded me of characters like Merman, whom he admired so. He played the piano with a hot, light-fingered touch, and spoke in his soft unexcited voice of his reflections on home and of luminaries he worked with, all with a mischievous sparkle in his eyes as only fond memories of yesteryear can give.

His reflections on Chelsea, in a wonderful musical ditty, is a then and now piece of funny and precise recollection of the past and present.

As wonderful, funny, irreverent, and sassy his Lypsinka is, Mr. Epperson is a charming, fascinating entertainer-- he’s touching, warm and honest, and quite moving as he transforms himself into his star attraction: LYPSINKA.

Tim Glasby (for Richmond Shepard)

Performing Arts INSIDER,

December 03rd, 2014

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTIME by Simon Stephens, based on a book by Mark Haddon, is a Performance Art piece, a play that explores the world of an autistic boy who speaks in announcements with crisp consonants, the physically flexible Alex Sharp, and his reactions to imaginative trips provoked by the world around him. It’s odd, brilliant, stylized, with lots narrated by his teacher and his mother. It’s also a light show, designed by Paule Constable, with active patterns that actually become a description of inner state. Objects are deftly handled in Mime; props are imaginary. Sound effects designed by Ian Dickenson jump in as part of the amazing visual spectacle. All members of the large cast are strong and convincing as they play many parts. Scenery by Bunny Christy is a few boxes, and it works well. Her costumes are just right. Director Marianne Elliott has created a splendid experience. Generally, they don’t make visuals this good.

Performing Arts INSIDER,, Outer Critics Circle

The 1936 comedy about a crazy mixed up arty family by the masters of their time, Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, is just as much fun today as it has been all these years. (I played Mr. DePinna in 1947 at Emory University.) With a superb familiar Broadway cast led by James Earl Jones as the grandfather, we are also introduced to s comic gem: Annaleigh Ashford. She’ll go far and high. David Rockwell’s set, Donald Holder’s lighting, and Jane Greenwood’s costumes lift the production, and as nimbly directed by Scott Ellis, the show cooks from start to finish- filled with laughs, full of fun as an innocent, Fran Kranz (and later, his square parents) is inserted into this band of nuts. If you don’t love it, I’ll give you a dollar.

Richmond Shepard—

Performing Arts INSIDER,, Outer Critics Circle

November 20th, 2014

SIDE SHOW- book and lyrics by Bill Russell, music by Henry Krieger, is a stylized show, brilliantly directed by Bill Condon, with miraculous choreography by Anthony Van Laast, based on the adventures of actual Siamese Twins, the Hilton sisters, who went from Side Show Freak to Vaudeville and fame. The sisters, played by Erin Davey and Emily Padgett are remarkable- beautiful, great singers and dancers, and where they found this pair of actual Siamese Twins is, I guess, a secret. They can’t fool me and say that they are two separate women- I could tell— they really are conjoined. (And when they take bows at the end as two people, I could tell it was done with mirrors.) The cast contains real Side Show characters: strange personages (makeup by Cookie Jordan, masks and special makeup by Dave Elsay and Lou Elsea) great costumes by Paul Tazewell, Lighting by longtime winners Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (they win again), and an imaginative set by David Rockwell. They have actual dwarfs and a fat Lady (by the standards of that time- today it’s the normal figure you see walking down the street in America.), a dog boy, s lizard man, and an African Cannibal with a rich bass-baritone voice that reminded me of Paul Robeson (whom I saw live several times many many years ago,) played by David St. Louis. Powerful performance as companion and protector of the girls. Robert Joy is a strong Side Show producer, and the two romantic leads, Matthew Hydzik and the charismatic Ryan Silverman, as well as the rest of the cast, are top level singes. Don’t miss this treat of a show--it’s quite a trip-- totally entertaining, with a touch of heart.

Richmond Shepard—

Performing Arts INSIDER,, Outer Critics Circle

November 20th, 2014

Joe Mantello, with the help of choreographer Steven Hoggett, has outdone himself directing THE LAST SHIP, book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, music and lyrics by Sting. The musical is quite an interesting show about a shipbuilding town in Ireland that has stopped building ships and wants the workers, ship-builders for generations, to use their skills and tools to repair machinery. The townfolk only want to build ships, and they set out to build one themselves. Somehow they’re going to find the metal, engines, etc., and with a workman’s nobility and pride, build it. Early on the songs by Sting are prose, with the sound, extended, kind of melted onto the words. Later, the words become poetic, and melodic. The physical action in the show, the staging and physical interactions, is all poetic. The entire cast are fine singers, and leading man Michael Esper is a star. His voice, looks and charisma fill the theatre. The two women, Rachel Tucker and Sally Ann Tripplett, have strong, very musical voices, they are fine actresses, and are lovely to look at. Fred Applegate makes a fine, strong priest. Terrific set and appropriate costumes by David Zinn and perfect lighting by Christopher Akerlind lift the production to a high level.

OK. It’s a good show. But I see a bit of Sophistry: building on a false premise. Working class people, with families to feed, offered employment using the tools they are familiar with turning down work? The proffered nobility is self-destructive. It’s as if a linotype operator, used to setting type for newspapers, an occupation that disappeared when computers appeared, decided that he only wanted to set type with a linotype machine, and so would set up and print his own newspaper. Then what? A newspaper needs reporters, distributers, ads, readers. A ship needs cargo. It needs a shipping company. Maybe they can sell their ship. Maybe they can’t. It’s Don Quixote— Charge! So—I was engaged by and enjoyed the evening in theatre with those good singer/actors and the imaginative staging, despite feeling the premise was a bit off. And it does have a terrific anthem, “When The Last Ship Sails,” which is quite moving, and a visual treat of an ending.

-- Richmond Shepard—

Performing Arts INSIDER,, Outer Critics Circle

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