Monday, July 15, 2019

GUEST REVIEW 9 (2019-2020): LADYSHIP


“A Show of Support”****

From time to time Theatre's Leiter Side will be posting reviews of Off-Off Broadway shows my schedule prevents me from seeing. If you are interested in reviewing Off-Off Broadway, please contact me so we can discuss. I hope you find the expanded coverage useful. Sam Leiter

On July 13, there was a blackout in New York City that shut down Broadway. Unable to go on, several shows, including Hadestown, Waitress, and a Carnegie Hall choir, took their acts to the streets. Hours earlier, at the New York Musical Festival (NYMF), a less dramatic event prevented a production from proceeding as scheduled: a leading actress, Maddie Shea Baldwin, was too ill to perform in LadyShip. This being a NYMF show, there was no understudy. Rather than cancel, the cast instead put on a concert production, with co-writer Linda Good filling in for the under-the-weather player.


You might expect the audience to have been cranky about this, as they had paid for a full production. But just as New Yorkers offered their support when the lights went out on Broadway and took to the streets to help control traffic, the LadyShip theatregoers applauded wildly when Linda Good sang her big solo and gave the cast a standing ovation at the end.  
Caitlin Cohn, Jordan Bolden. Photo: Russ Rowland.
Yes, perseverance was the theme of the day, also dominating the musical created by the twin pop indie duo Linda and Laura Good, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics. LadyShip, directed by Samantha Saltzman, is based on the trueand not widely knownstories of the thousands of women who were sent on ships from London to colonize Sydney, beginning in the late 18th century. If British male convicts were the bottom of the barrel, then what would you call the female population gifted to them as wives to birth future generations?  
Trevor St. John Gilbert, Quentin Oliver Lee, Justin R.G. Holcomb. Photo: Russ Rowland.
Through the song “The Bloody Code,” we learn how the British government concocted a plan to populate the Australian colony by sending female convicts (which is to say, poor women and young girls who commited petty crimes to survive) on ships to Sydney to serve a seven-year sentencethat is if they could survive the 10-month journey overseas as prisoners below deck with moldy biscuits as food and wooden shelves as beds.
Jennifer Blood, Caitlin Cohn, Noelle Hogan, Maddie Shea Baldwin. Photo: Russ Rowland.
Representing the hordes of female convicts transported on ships are six characters, more or less recognizable as players in any period piece: the wholesome young sisters, the feisty street dweller from the school of hard knocks, the mother who will do what it takes to return to her children, the noblewoman fallen from grace, and the sweet little orphan who yearns for a better life. 
Caitlin Cohn, Quentin Oliver Lee. Photo: Russ Rowland.
The men of the cast include the tormented law-abiding captain, the villainous captain’s nephew (luckily, he has no mustache or, surely, he’d twirl it), the young romantic lead, and the burly, brutish seaman. 
Noelle Hogan, Caitlin Cohn, Maddie Shea Baldwin. Photo: Russ Rowland. 
The company of 10 skillfully breathes maximum humanity into the token characters, singing the well-crafted score with an exuberance that held my attention for the two-hour performance. Caitlin Cohn plays Mary with quiet strength, Noelle Hogan is superb as 11-year-old Kitty, and Trevor St. John-Gilbert and Quentin Oliver Lee deliver rich vocals. The trio of musicians (Simone Allen, Christopher Anselmo, and Charlotte Morris) provides lively accompaniment. 
The company of LadyShip. Photo: Russ Rowland.
Considering the rough threats to the passengers, including mothers being separated from their children, slavery, starvation, and rape, LadyShip is surprisingly uplifting, with healthy doses of comedy, female friendship, and joyous music. While in future iterations it would be great to see the characters more developed, LadyShip successfully, and in the spirit of its clever title, explores the strength women draw from each other in suffering. 

Pershing Square Signature Center/The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
480 W42nd st., NYC
Through July 14

Elyse Orecchio studied musical theatre at Emerson College, acting at CUNY Brooklyn College, and English Linguistics & Rhetoric at CUNY Hunter College. She has worked in nonprofit communications for more than a decade. She lives in Sunnyside, Queens, with her husband Joe, kids Theo and Melody, and three cats. eorecchio@gmail.com @elyseorecchio



Saturday, July 13, 2019

GUEST REVIEW 8 (2019-2020): Review: BURIED


“Served with a Homicide of Romance”***

By Elyse Orecchio

From time to time Theatre's Leiter Side will be posting reviews of Off-Off Broadway shows my schedule prevents me from seeing. If you are interested in reviewing Off-Off Broadway, please contact me so we can discuss. I hope you find the expanded coverage useful. Sam Leiter 


Some people spend their university years in an inebriated haze; others write a full-length musical. Sure, University of Sheffield students Cordelia O’Driscoll and Tom Williams were under the influence when they created their first piece, Buried. That would be the influence of Jason Robert Brown and Stephen Sondheim. O’Driscoll and Williams have touted The Last Five Years and Sweeney Todd as inspiration for their musical, which is about two serial killers who like each other enough not to murder each other on the first date…awwww!!! 
Lindsay Manion, Sebastian Belli. 
In the opening musical number, Rose (a compelling Lindsay Manion), goes on a series of dates (including a crotch-grabbing dude and a droll, nerdy girl) that end in the demise of these duds. Then she meets Harry (Sebastian Belli): yes, that is a knife in his pocket and he’s not just happy to see her. She puts down the poison that had his name on it and they compare notes on their murderous ways.

Rose and Harry pair up, but not in that way. They decide to join forces in a killing spree, and romance comes later (you know what they say—first comes homicide…). Promising premise, but not much happens from there. With the smattering of killings occurring offstage, and a low-thrill storyline, the result is a good deal of dead space.
Rebecca Yau, Wilf Walsworth, Lindsay Manion.
Lifting Buried above ground is the original folksy score by O’Driscoll (music and lyrics), soulfully led by the silky-voiced Manion, who would be equally comfortable singing on stage or in a coffee house. The lilting harmonies of the ensemble (Niamh Finan, Laurence Hunt, Wilf Walsworth, and Rebecca Yau) elevate their characters from cartoon status. A standout number, “I’m Okay,” features the cast’s female trio, whose voices blend beautifully.
Sebastian Belli, Lindsay Manion.
In contrast with the sophisticated score, the book by Tom Williams (who also co-wrote the lyrics and directed) comes across as boring and at times, even amateurish. But take that with a grain of salt, considering this production won accolades across the United Kingdom and made its way to the New York Music Theatre Festival, an admirable feat for two university students who, by the way, are already working on their next musical.

The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
480 W42nd st., NYC
Through July 14

Elyse Orecchio studied musical theatre at Emerson College, acting at CUNY Brooklyn College, and English Linguistics & Rhetoric at CUNY Hunter College. She has worked in nonprofit communications for more than a decade. She lives in Sunnyside, Queens, with her husband Joe, kids Theo and Melody, and three cats. eorecchio@gmail.com @elyseorecchio



Friday, July 12, 2019

41 (2019-2020): Review: REBORNING (seen July 11, 2019)


“A Doll’s House”

Once again, going to the theatre taught me something I never knew before. Reborning, the title of this would-be psychological chiller by Zayd Dohrn, refers to an actual thing. (Dohrn, for the record, is the son of oldtime radicals Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn of Weather Underground notoriety.) That, for the similarly ignorant, is the creation by specialty sculptors of photorealistic dolls of infants, usually deceased ones.

One purpose is so grieving loved ones can use them as a means of dealing with their loss. Yes, it’s freaky, and the freak factor is implicit in Dohrn’s play, which exploits such an arrangement. Most of the chill you’ll feel, however will be from the A/C, not the writing or production at the Soho Playhouse. 
Emily Bett Rickards. Photo: Russ Rowland. 
The play, originally staged as part of the Summer Play Festival at the Public Theater in 2009, with no less than Katherine Waterston as Kelly, Greg Keller as Daizy, and Ally Sheedy as Emily, ties these three characters together in an odd but nonetheless reasonaly plausible relationship centered on the ineffable bonds between mothers and their offspring.
Emily Bett Rickards, Paul Piaskowski, Lori Triolo. Photo: Russ Rowland.
Kelly was abandoned in a dumpster by her mother as a child, with numerous screwdriver-caused holes in her abdomen. She earns her living as a dollmaker (but not like Jane Fonda in the movie of that name), using photos of her late subjects to recreate their every feature, down to the texture of their hair, the sweat in their fleshy folds, and the rosiness of their cheeks. She wears rubber gloves because her abusive parent also obliterated her fingertips, killing all feeling in her hands (if not her troubled soul).

As played by Emily Bett Rickards, she’s attractive in a funky, tank top-wearing, dyed red hair, tattooed kind of way. She may have been in rehab but she still drinks heavily, smokes weed, and pops pills, struggling to handle whatever demons may be disturbing her. Those demons lately have cooled her sexual heat with Daizy (Paul Piaskowski), the boyfriend in whose loft she lives and sculpts.
Lori Triolo, Emily Bett Rickards. Photo: Russ Rowland.
Her worktable is equipped with a video camera whose close-up images of the doll’s features are projected at length on a screen she observes across the room. Those images, showing her dabbing and poking at the face and eyes of a doll, are initially disturbing because the doll’s blown-up cheeks and eyes look so real. The impression soon fades, especially as the prop doll she employs, when held up where we can see it, looks so ordinary, shabby even. This technical drawback is among the production’s biggest problems, preventing belief in the authenticity of what transpires.

A limp excuse for humor in this mostly dreary play is provided by Daizy’s profession: he's a sculptor of latex dildos. He even wears one on his first entrance. It’s his idea of a joke, you see, as it takes a second before he realizes that the person he’s dicking around with isn’t Kelly but one of her clients. She’s Emily (Lori Triolo), a well-dressed, middle-aged attorney, who commissioned a doll of the child she lost lo these many years ago.
:Paul Piaskowski. Photo: Russ Rowland.
Kelly, who takes her work seriously, is extremely accommodating to her clients, willing to make even the slightest adjustments in her dolls to achieve full satisfaction. But nothing she does to fulfill Emily’s obsessive desires gets her full approval, driving Kelly to offer Emily a full refund. Just like shopping at Bed Bath and Beyond!

The deepening relationship between Kelly and Emily begins to weigh on the dollmaker, leading her to suspect that Emily may actually be the mother who abandoned her. Her behavior begins to show signs of even further instability—some it so sudden it seems completely contrived.
Emily Bett Rickards, Paul Piaskowski. Photo: Russ Rowland.
After the earnest Daizy puts aside his dildos for the real thing and gets Kelly pregnant, he mediates between Emily, the mother who needs a replica of her dead daughter, and Kelly, the abandoned child who needs a real mother.

On paper, the hour and a quarter Reborning embodies a promising idea for a tense drama of parental love and loss, and the lengths to which people will go to deal with the trauma of grief, even when to others’ eyes they seem excessive if not pathological. Dohrn’s play presents the problem but does little to dig beneath its surface.

The physical circumstances of Kelly’s unusual profession—including offhand jokes about the movies’ scary Chucky doll—certainly have interest. But the holes in Kelly’s abdomen (indicated by realistic makeup) are matched by holes in Dohrn’s script. For example, a lot is made by Daizy about how DNA testing would resolve Kelly’s suspicion regarding Emily’s being her mother. But why doesn’t he simply sneak a bit of organic material (her spit in his eye, mayhap) and not bother dealing with her refusal to provide it?
Lori Trialo, Emily Bett Rickards. Photo: Russ Rowland.
Anyway, I’m taking this flatly written, flatly acted (aside from the spunky Rickards, of TV’s “Arrow”), and flatly directed (by the actress playing Emily) play too seriously. Very little about the production other than its reborning premise is distinctive. That includes Peter Triolo’s so-so setting, with its upstage wall including an elevator fronted by a metal, cross-hatched gate.

One wonders, by the way, why the elevator is always there for exiting characters but, when someone’s entrance is signaled on the intercom, needs time to reach the apartment. Does it always have to descend before rising again? And why, one also wonders, has lighting designer Aaron Porter, whose illumination my lighting-aware plus-one commended, kept the interior of said elevator black? I kept thinking those who entered it were stepping into an abyss.

Perhaps a more polished performance, with a tighter ensemble and more interesting byplay, might produce a viable version of Reborning. For now, though, the play is a stillborn requiring a master team of reborners to make it look alive.

Soho Playhouse
15 Vandam St., NYC
Through August 3

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

40 (2019-2020): Review: ROCK OF AGES (seen July 10, 2019)


“Don’t Stop Believin’”

It’s been well over three years since Rock of Ages, the popular jukebox musical featuring a lineup of eardrum-shattering power ballads from the ‘80s, closed out its six-year Broadway run. Judging by the excitement of the surprisingly youthful crowd on hand at its Off-Broadway revival, many ready to wave their arms and those little artificial lighters, the show’s producers haven’t stopped believin’ that the show’s rock is ageless.
Mitchell Jarvis and company. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
It’s no longer news that Chris D’Arienzo’s book, stitched together as an excuse to present a hand-clapping, toe-tapping, headbanging array of ‘80s evergreens that—even if you were there but weren’t paying attention—wormed their way into your brain if you were anywhere near a radio. Rock of Ages is one of those shows that expresses itself through the lyrics of totally unrelated songs from an eclectic bunch of sources. It brings back the hair metal, anthem rock, pop rock, glam metal, call-them-what-you-will songs of Journey, Pat Benatar, Jon Bon Jovi, Styxx, Twisted Sister, Foreigner, Whitesnake, Europe, Poison, Steve Perry, and a list that, as the song says, goes on and on and on and on. 
CJ Eldred. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
It’s the kind of show where Sherrie (Kirsten Scott), the girl, explains to Drew (CJ Eldred), the boy, that she’s “Just a small town girl, Livin' in a lonely world,” from Journey’s “Small Town Girl,” and he sings back, “Just a city boy, Raised in South Detroit.” Even Sherrie’s name comes from Steve Perry’s “Oh Sherrie.” Reasons thus are found to insert such chart-toppers as “I Wanna Rock,” “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” “Here I Go Again,” “The Final Countdown,” “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” and, among scads of others, of course, “Don’t Stop Believin’.” This new production even gets to blast Def Leppard’s title song, the group having agreed to lift the embargo on its use. 


The New World Stages production—one of many that have rocked international stages over the years, not to mention a Hollywood movie version starring Tom Cruise—celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Broadway production. It appears to be a pretty close replica of the one I saw sometime back in the day with Constantine Maroulis playing Drew. Mitchell Jarvis, the original Lonny, is back again, having played the role over 1,200 times.
CJ Eldred. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
Lonny is the sound man at the Bourbon Room, a rock club on L.A.’s Sunset Strip owned by Dennis (Matt Ban) and threatened with demolition by a greedy German developer, Hertz (Tom Galantich), and his oh-so-fey son Franz (Dane Biren). This sets up the central conflict as the club needs to find a way to save itself. 
Tom Galantich, Tiffany Engen, Dane Biren. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
Lonny also serves as the show’s Puck-like, mischievous narrator, and Jarvis, who exudes personality from every pore, plays him as freshly as if he never played him before. His material—much of self-referential about the show itself—may be banal and its humor puerile but it takes a special cocktail of dancing, singing, and comedic flair to sustain a part like his with such consistently bubbling fizz for nearly two and a half hours. 
Tiffany Engen, Dane Biren, Tom Galantich. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
There’s not much to say about the flimsy book. It involves, firstly, the threat to the Bourbon Room and its block to make way for a neighborhood transformation akin to what happened to Times Square over the past few decades. But, naturally, there's also a principal romance between Drew, a long-haired, wannabe rock star, doing janitorial work at the club, and Sherrie, who wants to be an actress and becomes a waitress at the same place. She has a fling with the ultra-vain rock star, Stacee Jaxx (PJ Griffith, in the role Cruise handled on film). It's highlighted by a rowdy sex-in-the-toilet-stall scene but she gets dumped and becomes a stripper before finally hooking up with Drew. There are also a couple of additional romantic subplots, one straight, one gay, both of them broadly farcical.
PJ Griffith and company, Photo: Matthew Murphy.
You go to Rock of Ages for its music, not its plots or subplots, or its string of incessantly raunchy juvenilia, with countless humping movements, genital references, and grade school-level naughtiness, which these adults revel in as if they’d just been given permission to smirk about boobies and nipples. The music, though, if it’s up your alley, certainly shivers the timbres [sic!] with a succession of vocally explosive and physically dynamic performances. 
Mitchell Jarvis, Matt Ban, CJ Eldred. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
For me, though, the continuously over-the-top acting of the cartoonish characters, the exaggerated situations, and the succession of one amped-up power ballad after the other took its toll well before the over-long show concluded. Nevertheless, Kristin Hanggi’s pumped-up direction has made the show a worldwide hit, so who am I to complain?
Jeannette Bayardelle, Kirsten Scott. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
Also responsible for Rock of Ages’ popularity are Gregory Gale’s vivid costumes, which both satirize and recreate the excesses of the 80s; Beowulf Boritt’s set for the seedy Bourbon Room, with a back wall for Zachary Borovay’s many projections; and Jason Lyons’s concert-style lighting. 
Kirsten Scott. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
Eldred and Scott as Drew and Sherrie give spot-on performances, the latter—who can dance, sing, and totally rock a bikini—making an especially strong impression on both the ears and eyes. They’re joined by an attractive, nubile, and talented ensemble. Watching them is as much fun as hearing them sing. 
PJ Griffith and company. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
Unlike Jersey Boys, which also moved from Broadway to a New World Stages venue, Rock of Ages is having a limited run, so it won’t be rocking here for ages. If you wanna rock, now’s the time to do it.

New World Stages
340 W. 50th St., NYC
Through September 29



Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Friday, June 28, 2019