Reviews Off Broadway / Whats On Off Broadway

Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Life On The Road As Therapy

The Mad Ones, now on-stage at 59 E 59 Theaters, is a musical of both youthful exuberance and heartbreak. In a very non-New York centric way, it uses the analogy of cars and the road for freedom. For most of America, it is an obvious metaphor.  The title itself refers to the characters from Jack Kerouac’s novel, On The RoadThe Mad Ones are the freewheeling group that speaks to our heroine.
L-R: Emma Hunton (as Kelly) and Krystina Alabado (as Samantha Brown) in Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk’s THE MAD ONES at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Richard Termine
Samantha (Krystina Alabado) is a teenager on the cusp of adulthood, and all the emotional baggage that entails. She longs to be crazy and free - in general terms like the characters in Kerouac’s novel and, in specific, like her friend Kelly (Emma Hunton). She and Kelly have taken road trips, stayed out late talking through the night, and planned to chuck it all and just drive away. Kelly was Samantha’s best friend and instigator. But Kelly was killed right before graduation, and Samantha has been frozen since.
Samantha’s mother, Beverly (Leah Hocking), is a dynamic professor, brilliant woman and overly protective single mother. She wants Samantha, High School Valedictorian, to attend an Ivy League school and become a success. Samantha is pulled between the future her mother wants and the future her friend Kelly offers. Thrown into the mix is her unobtrusive and supportive, if a bit dim, boyfriend Adam (Jay Armstrong Johnson). Adam is just “there” for Samantha, the sweet boy without an agenda, unloved both Kelly and her mother.
These competing forces converge one night as Samantha is about to drive away from home, maybe to college, maybe just drive away. She sits caught between the competing visions of her future. The Mad Ones is a musical set against these competing visions, and the cast has the pipes to carry the show beautifully. Each actor has at least one moment in song that is touching, but the stars of this show are Krystina Alabado and Emma Hunton. Their voices are wonderful and their scenes together are a joy.
But this combination is also key to the drawback of The Mad Ones. Together, Kelly drives Sam into action. However, when alone, Samantha is a passive character. True, she longs for something, that something is frustratingly undefined. Samantha is a reactive creature: reacting to her friend, her mother or her boyfriend in turn. When alone, her youthful confusion has a tendency to turn into whining.
Most of the songs (Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk) are very good: catchy and fun or serious and soulful. There is an overreliance on the metaphor of a car as freedom, which grinds after a while. The sparse direction of Stephen Brackett is perfect for the space here. It is a spare story in a spare space and he allows the actors to fill it with pathos and song. The Mad Ones may not make you wish for a road trip, but you definitely want the best for our little Sam, all grown up now.
The Mad Ones | Book, Lyrics & Music: Kait Kerrigan, Brian Lowdermilk | Director: Stephen Brackett | Cast: Krystina Alabado, Leah Hocking, Emma Hunton, Jay Armstrong Johnson | Website

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Off Broadway News Nov 15, 2017

The Drama League has revamped and expanded their “DirectorFest” festival. Taken place from January 13 – 22nd, it will showcase the new directors that have been working with the Drama League for the past year. In its 34th year, the festival will include five fully-staged productions, a showcase evening of new musicals, staged readings, discussion panels, books signings, workshops and conversations with America’s most notable directors.
Taking place over two weeks in venues across Manhattan, highlights of the festival include rarely-seen plays by David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly), Enda Walsh (Once: The Musical), new works by Gabrielle Reisman, Alejandro RicaƱo and more, all directed by the 2017 Drama League Directors Project Fellows: Laura Brandel, Bonnie Gabel, Matt Dickson, Flordelino Lagundino, and Rebecca Martinez.  Chosen last spring from over 330 applicants nationwide, these five visionary emerging directors recently completed their year of mentorship, assistantships, training and career development as part of The Drama League Directors Project.

Interesting Small Work “Foreign and Domestic” to play LES Nov 17 – 19
This looks interesting:
"Foreign & Domestic" is a 20-minute play that follows Lucy, an Argentinian immigrant living in NYC, who is forced to introduce her new boyfriend, all-American Jake to her closest friends - all of whom happen to be aliens.
Power play, immigration talk and war of the accents ensue!
There are FIVE consecutive shows each night, starting at 8pm. Tickets are $5 and are sold at the door (cash only). Please make sure to get there with enough time since the space only allows FIFTEEN audience members for each show.”
David Hyde Pierce Headlines a Benefit Reading of A Christmas Carol
David Hyde Pierce is doing a benefit reading of a Christmas Carol on Dec 11th.  There is some amazing talent with him: John Glover, Harriet Harris, Edward Hibbert, Julie White, Kathryn Meisle, Brian Reddy, Richard Topol and the Brooklyn Boys Choir. It is a benefit for The Acting Company.

Sam Underwood Reprises Losing Days

Sam Underwood, a favorite from stage and television, will be at 54 Below on Monday Dec 4th in Losing Days. Losing Days is a one man musical theater piece Mr. Underwood performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It gives New York audiences a chance to see this well received show and another chance to hear Mr. Underwood's voice - always welcome.
The show at 54 Below has been updated to include “The Boxroom Larrys”. And, part of the proceeds will go to a mental health organization.  See it if you can.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Romance Doesn’t Fit in a Trapezoid

The idea behind Romantic Trapezoid is interesting - it is an updated take on a 1930s sex comedy, complete with gender role reversal. The lead male character, Dave, teaches film, so the call backs make sense. Unfortunately the show never takes off.
The trapezoid is thus: Melissa (Elizabeth Inghram) is a sexy confident writer who enjoys the company of Dave, three nights a week, and other men other times. Dave (Zack Calhoon) is a love-struck mensch who wants to marry and settle down with Melissa. He has the Miriam Hopkins role here, hopelessly in love with Melissa and unable to force the her into marriage. Beth is the final part of the Trapezoid (all the other men are in one corner). Beth (Joy Donze) is Dave’s graduate assistant, who states she wants to marry Dave so Melissa better decide to take him or leave him. It isn’t clear if Beth is actually in love with Dave or if this is a ruse of Dave’s to force Melissa’s hand. You see, Melissa has the Clark Gable role here: handsome, suave and sure of herself and her sex appeal.  But just like poor dumb Clark Gable, she falls for the ruse, even though she knows it might be a ruse and all is wrapped up by the final reel.
Elizabeth Inghram and Joy Donze
But... a 1930s sex romp can be excused for not showing any sex. Romantic Trapezoid is  surprisingly lacking in romance or sex. And, in the black and white movies, it is funny to see a man get played by a woman. However, in person, it is a little creepy seeing a woman being manipulated by a man into marriage.
Wedging Dave into the role of impotent love toy is both unrealistic and unappealing. Poor Mr. Calhoon is called on to be a wimp, a stud, fun and a killjoy almost concurrently. Then, he is called on to give old movie dialog with a wink and a nod. It does not work. Melissa has an easier time of being a sexy but ungrateful louche. But her transition to jealousy is too generic to be fun.
Joy Donze is the only cast member with a believable story and she makes the most of it. Ms. Donze luxuriates in a role that might have been a throw away. She is hilarious.
Romantic Trapezoid tries to pull off a high wire act of witty banter winning out, just like in the movies. When it works it sparkles, but it doesn’t work enough.
Romantic Trapezoid | Playwright: Victor L. Cahn |  Director: Alberto Bonilla | Cast: Zack Calhoon, Joy Donze, Elizabeth Inghram | website

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Junk Revels in Nihilism

Junk, now playing at the Lincoln Center, is a play full of fantastic acting, interesting staging and intelligent writing. Unfortunately, it is also a depressing call back to the worst of the 1980’s that holds up a fun house mirror to today’s issues, making that horrible time look quaint by comparison. It is not a pleasant evening. Your tolerance for Junk will depend on how much you can appreciate great actors being horrible people.
The story is complex, but not complicated. At its essence, Junk tells the tale of a corporate raider, his lawyer, and the acquiring firm’s CEO and their struggle to acquire a steel conglomerate listed on the Dow Jones. These three are played excellently by Steven Psaquale, Matthew Saldivar and Matthew Rauch, respectively. Steven Pasquale is Robert Merkin, the new Time Magazine Cover Boy of junk bonds and leveraged debt. For Robert Merkin, takeovers are both personal and professional. As a Jewish man, he witnessed his father’s rejection by the (WASP) Wall Street power brokers. Today, his drive and desire to rip apart that world is equal parts revenge, greed and Napoleon complex.
Hunter and Prey - Steven Psaquale and Rick Holmes in Junk (Henry Stram- upstage right)
Rick Holmes is Thomas Everton Jr., CEO of Everton Steel, the takeover target. He is a nice guy CEO, although he may be cooking the books a little to save steel jobs in his hometown. His two lawyers are a Jewish man and an African American Woman (Henry Stram and Ito Aghayere) who try to explain the new paradigm of debt financing and the threat to his company. Everton is too rigid, too sentimental and a little too bigoted to make it in this new cut-throat world.
The final leg of the triangle of players is a Chinese American journalist (Teresa Avia Lim) and rich old white power player Leo Tressler (Michael Siberry - who is wonderfully morally superior). These characters provide the extensive exposition and creepy sexual politics.
There are a lot of shades of grey in the morality of this show, but not in the manner you’re used to seeing. Normally shades of grey define the mental conflict of the good vs. the bad guys. Here, everyone is a greedy S.O.B., there are no good guys. The grey here is displayed as some of the characters are, occasionally, less morally bankrupt than others.  America, as defined by Junk, is a fight between greedy upstarts with grudges to bear - who delight in humiliating their enemies, versus greedy white male racists. Women fare poorly, each one in Junk sells out her principals for money or power, often both. Men fare worse, only because there are more of them who provide a greater variety of repulsive moral traits.
Playwright Ayad Akhtar and director Doug Hughes do a fantastic job of explaining the way takeovers are financed, the impacts of “creative destruction” and showing that everyone in America is complicit. Junk might have provided an apt warning against smugness if Hillary Clinton had won the election. In the current political environment, however, it just feels like gratuitous piling on.  The American Dream is dead, we get it.
Junk | Playwright: Ayad Akhtar | Director: Doug Hughes | Cast: Steven Pasquale, Teresa Avia Lim, Matthew Rauch, Matthew Saldivar, Rick Homes, Henry Stram, Ito Aghayere, Michael Siberry, Joey Slotnick | Lincoln Center Website for Junk

Boys In The Band Revival - (hat tip - Towleroad)

This news from Towleroad (link)

I have to say, I am of a mixed mind on this.

It is an amazing cast. And it is being directed by Joe Mantello - whom I admire as a great director.

But it is a painfully dated show, and ran when there was lots and lots of self-loathing by the Gay Community. And when there was no Transsexual or Bisexual communities.

If properly updated, this might be great.

If not updated, it is a bitch-fest cat fight that will make Kevin Spacey look like the height of enlightened homosexual.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lee Pace Joins Angels in America!

Well dang.

I pretty much decided I did not need to see the new Angels in America. I know it has Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield, but I still was able to pass it up.

I mean I have seen Nathan Lane (a great stage actor) in multiple roles. I have seen Angles in America a few times - included the original in Los Angeles before it transferred to Broadway.

And, although I really do admire Nathan Lane, Ron Liebman  will always be Roy Cohen to me.

But Lee Pace as Joe Pitt.  I LOVE Lee Pace. And I think he would be amazing in that role, which is very difficult (and made Joe Mantello).

So, there you go.  Now I am going.