Thursday, February 4, 2016

140. Review: BROADWAY & THE BARD (seen February 4, 2016)

“Len Me Your Ears”
Stars range from 5-1.
Early in Canadian actor-singer Len Cariou’s glorious stage, film, and TV career, he spent two years carrying spears and understudying at Ontario’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival. When he returned in 1981, he was a star, hired to play the major Shakespearean leads of Prospero, Coriolanus, Brutus, and Petruchio. His many stellar stage performances include not only the classics, of course, but leads in a sizable number of Broadway musicals, including a Tony-winning turn as Sweeney in the original SWEENEY TODD. A glance at the 76-year-old star’s Wikipedia entry reveals how extensive and significant are his contributions to Canadian and American theatre; an opportunity to see a talent of such stature perform his cabaret-like show, BROADWAY & THE BARD, up close and personal in an intimate venue, isn’t to be missed, even if certain allowances have to be made. 

Len Cariou. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The show realizes Mr. Cariou’s long-held dream of creating an evening that combines speeches from Shakespeare with Broadway songs that can somehow be related to the Bard’s words. His Broadway debut, in 1968, was as Orestes in THE HOUSE OF ATREUS, but a year later he returned in the title role of HENRY V. Still, Canadian and American regional theatre audiences are probably more familiar than New Yorkers with his classical acting chops, so the show allows him to demonstrate them along with his once-vaunted singing skills, displayed in such Broadway musicals as APPLAUSE, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, and others, including the one-performance flop DANCE A LITTLE CLOSER.
Len Cariou. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Conceived by Mr. Cariou, director Barry Kleinbort, and musical director Mark Janas, BROADWAY & THE BARD is tied together with a few unsurprising, practically gossip-free career anecdotes; identification of the titles, shows, and composer/lyricists of his musical numbers; and brief comments contextualizing his 13 spoken selections and 22 songs. (Occasionally, Mr. Janas speaks a line or joins in a lyric.) Like the Shakespeare parts, the songs are often truncated; some speeches earn more than one song, and some songs seem related to both a preceding and following speech. Most speeches have a light piano underscoring, enhancing their dramatic value. Mr. Janas’s tactful accompaniment is light on the touch, supporting the actor’s voice and never, as so often happens, competing with it.
Mark Janas, Len Cariou. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The show is elegantly simple and unfussy: the silver-haired, genial Mr. Cariou, in gray slacks and a silky black shirt with blousy sleeves, moves easily about on Josh Iocavelli’s set: a grand piano, an upstage curtain pulled to one side, strands of hanging theatrical ropes, and a few props—a skull, a sword, a hat, etc. Although none of the latter are used, the star may don a golden laurel wreath or crown. Matt Berman’s superb lighting highlights with great sensitivity the evening’s shifting moods, bringing out all the values in Mr. Cariou’s expressive face.
Mark Janas, Len Cariou. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
There are few surprises among the speeches but the songs are all a delight, despite the tenuousness of how well some of them relate to the selections with which they’re paired. Of course, it’s possible to do a show that draws all its songs from musical adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays (or presentations of his life, like the current SOMETHING ROTTEN!), but we get only a sampling of such choices, such as “Falling in Love with Love” from THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE, and, naturally, “Brush up Your Shakespeare” from KISS ME KATE, which would have led to thrown tomatoes if ignored. Instead, Henry V’s “Once more into the breach,” from HENRY V is paired with “Applause,” from the show of that name, “Down with Love” from HOORAY FOR WHAT! is connected to a speech by Iago from OTHELLO, and CAMELOT’S “How to Handle a Woman” is used to balance the words of Petruchio in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. The ties are often clever but sometimes arguable.
Mark Janas, Len Cariou. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Mr. Cariou is as good an actor as he’s ever been, providing honest, clearly spoken, insightful readings of his dramatic pieces (which include Sonnet 29, “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”), but, sadly, his vocal instrument is no longer the rich baritone it once was. While mostly on key, he has trouble with the power notes and frequently sounds strained and reedy. This forces him to act his songs as much as he sings them; happily, in this he never falters, squeezing so many nuances from the lyrics that you willingly forgive what the years have wrought. 

Whatever pathos this confluence of age and understanding inspires is exquisitely expressed toward the end when, following Jacques’s “Seven Ages” monologue from AS YOU LIKE IT, he sings Anderson and Weill’s “September Song,” from KNICKERBOCKER HOLIDAY, giving it every drop of tenderness and wisdom it demands. The hour and 20-minute show may conclude on a jauntier note with “Brush up Your Shakespeare,” but it’s the elegiac “September Song” that lingers when the lights finally fade.


Lion Theatre/Theatre Row
410 West Forty-Second Street, NYC
Through March 6

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

139. Review: WASHER/DRYER (seen January 29, 2016)

Stars range from 5-1.

For my review of WASHER/DRYER, please click on THEATER 


Ma-Yi Theater Company
Beckett Theatre
410 West Forty-Second Street, NYC
Through February 20

Nandita Shenoy, Johnny Wu. Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum.

Jamyl Dobson, Nandita Shenoy. Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum.

Annie McNamara, Jade Wu. Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum.

Jade Wu. Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum.

Friday, January 29, 2016

138. Review: SOJOURNERS (January 28, 2016)

"Strangers in a Strange Land"
For my review of SOJOURNERS, please click on THEATRE PIZZAZZ.


The Playwrights Realm at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater
416 West Forty-Second Street, NYC
Through February 13

Chinasa Ogbuagu. Photo: Chasi Annexy.

Chinasa Ogbuagu, Hubert Point-Du Jour. Photo: Chasi Annexi.

Chinaza Uche. Photo: Chasi Annexi.

Chinasa Ogbuagu, Lakisha Michelle May. Photo: Chasi Annexi.

Hubert Point-Du Jour. Photo: Chasi Annexi.

Lakisha Michelle May, Chinasa Ogbuagu, Chinaza Uche. Photo: Chasi Annexi.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

137. Review: A DREAM OF RED PAVILIONS (seen January 27, 2016)

"A Chinese Downton Abbey?"
For my review of A DREAM OF RED PAVILIONS, please click on THE BROADWAY BLOG.

Kelsey Wang, E.J. An, Mandarin Wu. Photo: John Quincy Lee.

Clurman Theatre
410 West Forty-Second Street
Through February 14

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

135. Review: I AND YOU (seen January 21, 2016)

“Not I but Maybe You"
  • Stars range from 5-1.

Rule no. 1 in the reviewer’s unwritten manual is: “Thou shalt not divulge spoilers (at least not without a ‘spoiler alert’).” If you’re reviewing the first performance of HAMLET you don’t reveal that almost all the principals die, or that in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE Blanche not only is raped but goes off to the looney bin. You can dance around the big secrets, offering suggestive clues (read, for example, the reviews, including mine, of the recently opened OUR MOTHER’S AFFAIR), but you do your best not to give the playwrights’ game away. I won’t reveal the unexpected ending of Laura Gunderson’s tricky I AND YOU, at 59E59 Theaters, but I can’t help saying it’s brilliantly produced nonsense that follows a common trope found in too many movies and TV shows; it's also the most utrageously manipulative, unearned, big reveal in any play I’ve seen in years. I don’t buy it but maybe you—like my theatre guest—will. The reviewers covering Lowell, MA's Merrimack Repertory Theatre production, following the play's premiere at the  Marin Theatre in Mill Valley, CA, certainly did. 

Kayla Ferguson, Reggie D. White. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Ms. Gunderson’s 90-minute one-act, which uses the same cast and director (Sean Daniels) seen at the Merrimack, is set in the attic-like bedroom (great work from designer Michael Carnahan) of a white, rebellious, defiantly defensive, high school girl named Caroline (Kayla Ferguson). The room is dolled up to the rafters with teenage decorative detritus, including Caroline’s beloved stuffed turtle. In bursts a black boy, Anthony (Reggie D. White), a schoolmate of Caroline’s from her English class, and wants her help on a Walt Whitman project they’ve been asked to submit the following day. Caroline, who’s home because of a potentially fatal liver ailment (she communicates with the outside world—even her mother, elsewhere in the house—through her smartphone and laptop), has no idea of who he is and screams like bloody murder to make him leave.
Kayla Ferguson, Reggie D, White. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Reggie, a sweet, friendly, academically gifted, athletic (albeit, in Mr. White’s portrayal, decidedly nerdy), doctor’s son, isn’t so easy to get rid of, and the play charts his progress in overcoming Caroline’s resistance to both his presence, her reluctance to work on the project, and, through his uplifting explication of Whitman’s positivity, her depression. He uses John Coltrane’s jazz music to get under her skin; her own favorite music is old-time rock and roll. Gradually, they find the commonalities they share.
Kayla Ferguson, Reggie D. White. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Caroline may claim no knowledge of or interest in Whitman or Leaves of Grass, but by the end, when she makes a video explaining the poet’s use, in the book’s “Song of Myself” poetry, of the pronouns “I” and “you,” her knowledge has somehow exponentially expanded to the level of a college professor, albeit one wallowing in rampant self-consciousness. So much of Whitman—much of it related to the theme of death—is quoted and discussed during the play, in fact, that its biggest takeaway may be your desire to read him again and see for yourself what all his “yawping” is about.
Kayla Ferguson, Reggie D. White. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Ms. Gunderson’s dialogue is rich and her iterations of teen-speak are fun; her playwriting, though, stumbles, with too many forced dramatic crises or revelations. A principal example is the sudden, albeit very reluctant disclosure by Reggie midway through that while playing in a basketball game earlier in the day one of his teammates keeled over and died. Even though you realize later why it took so long for him to bring up this traumatic event—which both he and Caroline are horrified by—it’s the kind of thing that would in real life have been mentioned earlier. But, of course, this isn’t real life.
Reggie D, White, Kayla Ferguson. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The hyper-energetic Ms. Ferguson (regardless of Caroline’s ailment) and Mr. White are both talented, but, being in their 20s, rely on every exaggerated, clich├ęd bit of teen behavior in the book: they fidget, roll their eyes, press the heels of their palms to their eyes, squeeze their eyes shut in frustration, distaste, or desperation, and may make you think of how any two comedians on SNL might play over-the-top teens. Mr. White, especially, has the most annoying habit of expressing his roiling emotions by inserting his hands inside his sweater and twisting the fabric around, or doing something similar with the strap of his messenger bag. And if you can believe that sexual oil and water can mix, you’ll also believe the chemistry between Anthony and Caroline when their newfound friendship slides into a more romantic mode.
Reggie D. White, Kayla Ferguson. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
I AND YOU manages to hold one’s attention throughout but its characters lack authenticity, its structure is artificial, and its conclusion is off the charts. I suspect this is a minority report and anticipate learning how you responded.


59E59 Theaters
59 East Fifty-Ninth Street, NYC

Through February 28

Sunday, January 24, 2016

134. Review: THE BURIAL AT THEBES (seen January 22, 2016)

Stars range from 5-1/
For my review of THE BURIAL AT THEBES, please click on THEATER PIZZAZZ.


DR2 Theatre
103 East Fifteenth Street, NYC

Katie Fabel, Rebekkah Brockman. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Paul O'Brien. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Rebekkah Brockman, Paul O'Brien. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Paul O'Brien, Winsome Brown. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Ciaran Bowling, Paul O'Brien. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Rebekkah Brockman. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Paul O'Brien, Robert Langdon Lloyd, Colin Lane. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Katie Fabel, Paul O'Brien, Rod Brogan. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Rod Brogan, Ciaran Bowling, Winsome Brown. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Colin Lane, Rebekkah Brockman, Katie Fabel, Paul O'Brien. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Colin Lane, Katie Fabel, Paul O'Brien, Rebekkah Brockman. Photo: Carol Rosegg.