“On the Aisle with Larry” 3 May 2016

Lawrence Harbison, our The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on THE COLOR PURPLE, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, RED SPEEDO, THE HUMANS, BRIGHT STAR, THE FATHER, BLACKBIRD and HEAD OF PASSES.

I am dilatory in posting my column this time around – sorry. I have been caring for my mother in Ann Arbor Michigan, which turned out to be a full time job until she passed away three weeks ago; plus, I have been teaching two playwriting classes in the Theatre Dept. at the University of Michigan, a program which is vastly superior to what it was when I was there in the early 1970’s. I am amazed at the acting talent here, and am even more amazed at the playwriting ability of several of my students.

I have been returning to NYC periodically to see Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award-eligible shows. I haven’t been able to catch as many as in previous seasons, which is frustrating for me because I am something of a theatre addict, but I had to do what I had to do. My Mom needed my help.

Of the shows I have seen which are still running, one of the best is John Doyle’s stunning production of The Color Purple, at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Conventional Wisdom has it that Broadway theatregoers expect to see their money up on stage, in the form of expensive sets and costumes. Doyle confounds this by staging this musicalization of the Alice Walker novel on a unit set, with a pared down cast. Here, as is often the case, less is quite a bit more, particularly as there are three incredible performances, from Cynthia Erivo as the battered but not bowed Celie, sex on a stick with Jennifer Hudson as Shug Avery, and a performance by Danielle Brooks as Sofia which is every bit as touching as Oprah Winfrey’s was in the film.

This looks to be a shoo-in for the Tony Award for Best Musical Revival (although I haven’t yet seen SHE LOVES ME). Don’t miss it.

I also enjoyed the latest production of Fiddler on the Roof, at the Broadway Theatre, starring Danny Burstein as a very fine Tevye. Working within the confines of Jerome Robbins iconic staging, director Bartlett Sher still manages to find a lovely freshness in his cast, which also includes the ever-quirky Jessica Hecht as Golde. One fresh interpolation has Burstein appear at the beginning as a visitor from the future to Annatevka, in a red parka. When he doffs the coat, he becomes Tevye. In the end, when the villagers are forced to leave their homes, Burstsein reappears as the future guy in red, to help pull Tevye’s milk wagon. This device is partly intrusive, partly touching.

The rest of the supporting cast is first-rate. My faves were Adam Kantor as a delightfully nervous but determined Motel and Ben Rappaport as the radical gentile student, Perchik, who upends tradition most of all by marrying one of Tevye’s daughters (“Unheard of! Unthinkable!”)

This is a wonderful production of an American classic, and not to be missed.

Lucas Hnath is hot hot hot these days, fresh off his success with The Christians, which premiered at the Humana Festival, became a hit at Playwrights Horizons and has since gone on to many production nationwide. His latest, Red Speedo, which played at NY Theatre Workshop, was about a gifted swimmer named Ray who looks to be a lock to make the U.S. Olympic team until we find out that he has gotten so good so fast because he has been taking performance-enhancing drugs, something his lawyer brother wants to cover up because if it gets out, there will be no gravy train of million-dollar endorsements.

My problem with the play is the lack of awareness that all Olympic athletes have to take drug tests. In other words, no way could Ray’s drug use be covered up. If you were willing to suspend your disbelief, though, the play is a powerful indictment of what it just may take to reach the top level in any sport these days. It helps to have a brilliant performance from Alex Breaux as Ray. Breaux has a sleek swimmer’s body and a dim athlete’s mind, and should be remembered at awards time for his amazing performance. 

The Humans by Stephen Karems, at the Helen Hayes Theatre, a transfer from Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre, is a warm hearted comic drama about a family reunion at Thanksgiving, set in a Chinatown duplex apartment (are there duplex apartments in Chinatown?), to which all the clan has tracked in from Scranton. Nothing much happens, but the characters are very enjoyable and the cast uniformly wonderful. My faves were the parents, played by the always-excellent Reed Birney and Jane Houdyshell.

My only real quibble is with the ending, which goes all supernatural on us. This apartment is haunted? Huh? Where did that come from?

The Humans got pretty much across-the-board excellent reviews, and appears to be the favorite for Best Play in this year’s Tony roulette, which mystifies me as the category includes The Father, King Charles III and Blackbird, both are which are in my judgement  superior to this Nice Little Play.

Bright Star (music, book & story by Steve Martin, music lyrics and story by Edie Brickell), at the Cort Theatre, is another warm-hearted feel good show. It’s set in two time periods, 1923 and 1945-46, in Appalachia. Teenager Alice falls in love with a boy, gets pregnant and is forced to give the baby up for adoption, or so she thinks. In fact, the baby is thrown off a bridge and killed (or so we think). In the future (1945), Alice is the editor of a prestigious literary journal, to which a young serviceman comes with his short stories, hoping to get them published. Hometown gal Margo is in love with him, but he’s focused on literary success. You see it coming a mile away – the would-be writer is Alice’s long-lost and presumed dead son – but what holds our interest is how she will find this out.

The wonderful music is very unusual for Broadway – it’s bluegrass, played by a terrific onstage band. I love bluegrass music, so this was right up my alley. All the performances are fabulous – particularly, that of Carmen Cusack as Alice.

We are so inundated with cynicism these days. It’s refreshing to see a feel-good show once in a while, ain’t it?

At the Samuel F. Friedman Theatre, Frank Langella is giving one of the great performances of this season, or any other season, in Florian Zeller’s The Father, translated by Christopher Hampton. He plays André, an elderly man slipping further and further into an Alzheimer’s fog. We never quite know which scenes are “reality” and which are as André sees reality, which touchingly portrays what it must be like to suffer from this terrible disease. Doug Hughes’ production of this difficult play is just plain brilliant.

The Father should be at the top of your must-see list.

As should David Harrower’s Blackbird, at the Belasco Theatre, about a middle-aged man named Ray who is confronted at his workplace by a woman whom he sexually molested years ago, when she was twelve years old. After serving time in prison, Ray has started a new life under a new identity; but Una has tracked him down and is relentless as she harangues him about what he did to her. What makes the play so powerful is that they still love each other. What do you do when the Love of Your life, your soulmate, is twelve?

Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels are harrowing as Una and Ray, under Joe Mantello’s brilliantly subtle direction. Go – you won’t ever forget these two great performances in this get-you-in-the-gut play.

Other than the fine performances, especially by Phylicia Rashad as a family matriarch, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Head of Passes, at the Public Theater, was eminently miss-able. This endless drama was about what to do about Mom, who is in bad shape (bad ticker). In the second act, the house is destroyed by a storm (onstage) and everyone dies (offstage) except Mom. G. W. Mercher’s set was incredible, but the play itself was a tempest in a teapot.

I continue to be mystified as to why McCraney is considered to be one of our most important young playwrights. Yes, he’s hot hot hot; but I say he’s not not not.

THE COLOR PURPLE. Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

RED SPEEDO. New York Theatre Workshop. Alas, closed.

THE HUMANS. Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44th St.

TICKETS:  800-447-7400

BRIGHT STAR. Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.

TICKETS:  800-447-7400

THE FATHER. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. 261 W. 47th St

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

BLACKBIRD. Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

HEAD OF PASSES. Public Theater. Alas, closed. 

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 26 November 2015

“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison, the Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on KING CHARLES III, ON YOUR FEET, MISERY, SYLVIA, THÉRÈSE RAQUIN, RIPCORD, LOST GIRLS and HIR.

Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III, at the Music Box Theatre, is an import from London, where it created quite a sensation. It’s easy to see why. It’s a “what-if” play, imagining what might happen when Prince Charles becomes King Charles.

I am something of an Anglophile, but I didn’t know that the British monarch is not just in a ceremonial position. He can refuse to sign off on legislation Parliament passes. Of course, no monarch has exercised that right for hundreds of years – but what if he did? While Charles awaits his coronation, Parliament passes a law severely curtailing the power of the press. Charles tried to persuade his Prime Minister to reconsider. When he won’t, Charles in effect vetoes the bill, precipitating a political crisis not seen in England since the first King Charles.

Bartlett has chosen to put the play into iambic pentameter – with rhymed couplets at the end of scenes, giving King Charles III the gravitas and dramatic power of a Shakespeare history play.

The British cast, led by Tim Pigott-Smith in the eponymous role, is brilliant, under the powerful direction of Rupert Goold.  Pigott-Smith even looks a little like Charles; but the actors playing the rest of the royal family are practically dead-ringers. I particularly enjoyed Richard Goulding as Prince Harry, who has had it with being a Royal and just wants to live a normal life.

I won’t give it away, but the ending is very powerful – almost tragic, and it blew me away. God save the King!

On Your Feet, at the Marquis Theatre, is a “jukebox” bio-musical about Gloria and Emilio Estefan, featuring wonderful choreography by Sergio Trujillo and compelling performances by Ana Villafañe as Gloria and Josh Segurra as Emilio Estefan, with strong supporting work from Alma Cuervo as Gloria’s feisty grandmother.

On Your Feet is very entertaining, featuring the Estefans’ terrific music; but it also has dramatic punch. When Emilio tells a music producer who wants him to continue producing niche music for the Latino market that he is not a Cuban, he is not a Latino – he’s an American, the audience cheers. On Your Feet, along with Hamilton, will eventually have a powerful impact in fighting the demonization of non-white people which is integral to the appeal of the Godawful Obstructionist Party’s (GOP) presidential candidates.

I have not seen the film of Stephen King’s Misery, so going to the Broadhurst Theatre to see William Goldman’s stage adaptation was like seeing a new play. You probably know the premise: Famous Novelist has an accident and is rescued by a loony fan who, when she finds out that in his latest novel, her favorite character is killed off, goes berserk and will not let her idol leave her house until he writes a new novel bringing him back.

Bruce Willis is a little too low-key for my taste, but Laurie Metcalfe is sensational. There aren’t many chills in this thriller, but still it’s worth seeing, even if you’re not a Stephen King fan.

A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia has been given a fine revival at the Cort Theatre, directed by the king of the A-List, Daniel Sullivan. It’s about a middle-aged man who rescues a stray dog in Central Park and brings her home, much to the consternation of his wife. Matthew Broderick, toning down the jittery voice and gestures which he has used ever since How to Succeed in Business with Really Trying, is very touching as Sylvia’s new master, and Julie White is fine as his wife; but the real standout performances comes from Annaleigh Ashford in the title role. She is the epitome of Dog. There is excellent work as well from Robert Sella as a guy who also walks his dog in Central Park, and as a jittery matron, practically stealing the show in the latter role.

Gurney is one of my favorite playwrights, and Sylvia is delightful. Its limited run is set to end in early January, so you have some time (but not much) catch it.

At Studio 54, Roundabout is presenting a new translation by Christopher Hampton of Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, a gloomy tale of a young wife trapped in a loveless marriage who takes a lover. They decide to murder the husband. Will they get away with it?

Keira Knightley, in the eponymous role, is rather bland, but there is strong work from Matt Ryan as her lover, and from Judith Light as her mother in law. The direction, by Evan Cabnet, is just right, and the lighting and sound, by Keith Parham and Josh Schmidt respectively, even more so.

Davis Lindsay-Abaire’s Ripcord, at the Manhattan Theatre Club, is a quirky comedy about an odd couple who share a room in an old folks’ home. Holland Taylor plays a difficult, unfriendly woman named Abby who can’t stand her roommate Marilyn, a chirpy, cheerful woman named Marilyn played by Marylouise Burke. It’s a situational comedy, made interesting by the wonderful performances of Taylor and Burke, enjoyable but not in the same league with some of Lindsay-Abaire’s previous plays, such as Good People.

I enjoyed far more John Pollono’s powerful Lost Girls, produced by MCC at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, a touching drama about three generations of women. Maggie and her mother Linda are frantic when Maggie’s teenager daughter runs away in an epic snowstorm. Maggie elicits the assistance of her ex-husband Lou, a cop, to try and find her. Piper Pirabo is terrific as Maggie, as is Tasha Lawrence as Linda. Lost Girls has a great Big Reveal at the end, which you won’t see coming and which will stun you. It’s definitely a don’t-miss.

As for Taylor Mac’s Hir, at Playwrights Horizons, I enjoyed it but must say I didn’t know quite what to make of it. It’s a dark dysfunctional family comedy, in which the author reveals that there are not just 2 sexes – there are 20. Kristine Neilsen plays the Mom, in her patented whacky style. Nobody does an addled middle-aged women better than she; but sometimes she goes more than a little over the top, as she does here.

Still, if you love Kristine Neilsen and agree with Mac’s sexual/political points, you will quite enjoy Hir.

KING CHARLES III. Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

ON YOUR FEET. Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000

MISERY. Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

SYLVIA. Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THÉRÈSE RAQUIN. Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.

TICKETS: 212-719-1300

RIPCORD. Manhattan Theatre Club, City Center Stage 1, 131 W. 55th St.

TICKETS: 212-581-1212

LOST GIRLS. Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St.

TICKETS: 866-811-4111

HIR. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200 

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

 

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 10 November 2015

“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison, The PLayfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on FOOL FOR LOVE, OLD TIMES, CLEVER LITTLE LIES, THE GIN GAME, BARBECUE, ECLIPSED, AMAZING GRACE, ROTHSCHILD & SONS, THE CHRISTIANS and CLOUD NINE.

Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, currently burning up the stage in a revival at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway venue, the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is classic Shepard, and this new production makes the case for the play’s being one of this great playwright’s best.

Set in a motel room on the edge of the Mohave Desert, it tells the story of Mae and Eddie, a couple who can’t live with each other but can’t live without each other. Eddie, a rodeo cowboy, has disappeared from Mae’s life one too many times, and she has started a new life in a new town when Eddie shows up once again, hoping to rekindle the fire they once had. She is determined to resist him this time; but she can’t. I won’t give away the Big Reveal near the end of the play about who they really are – but suffice it to say, it’s a doozy.

As Mae, Nina Arianda confirms her status as the finest stage actress of her generation, and Sam Rockwell is terrific as well as her errant cowboy. Also good are Tom Pelphrey as a man who shows up to pick Mae up for a date and finds himself in the middle of her tug of war with Eddie, and Gordon Joseph Weiss as a mysterious old man who sits off to the side. He’s part of the Big Reveal at the end.

This one’s a don’t-miss.

As is Roundabout’s revival of Pinter’s Old Times, at the American Airlines Theatre, about a couple, Deeley and Kate, who are visited by a mysterious women from their past named Anna. Who is she, why has she come back into their lives, and what does she want?

The play’s a little too elliptical and obscure (even for Pinter); but nevertheless it’s fascinating, played with wonderful subtlety by Clive Owen as Deeley, Kelly Reilly as Kate and, especially, by Eve Best as Anna, under the subtly inventive direction of Douglas Hodge.

Old Times hasn’t had a major production in NYC since the original one in I think about 1971, so it’s not as familiar to theatregoers as Pinter classics like The Homecoming and Betrayal. Here’s your chance to see it.

At the start of Clever Little Lies, by Joe DiPietro, at the Westside Theatre, a young man reveals to his father after they have played tennis that he is having a torrid affair. He pleads with his dad not to tell his mother, but she wheedles it out of him and goes all out in trying to persuade him not to chuck his family for this new flame. As is typical, Marlo Thomas and Greg Mullavey, as the parents, are actually old enough to be the grandparents; but that said, they do a fine job. Thomas is particularly strong as a mother determined to prevent her son from making a Big Mistake.

Clever Little Lies is a throwback to the sort of comedy which appeared regularly on Broadway 50 years ago. Although it’s expertly constructed, and well-staged by David Saint, it seems rather thin on a contemporary stage. Nevertheless, it’s a crowd-pleaser if you’re Of a Certain Age and long for the glory days of early Neil Simon.

D.L. Coburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Gin Game, at the Golden Theatre, is another revival, this one with a black cast, James Earl Jones and Cecily Tyson as Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey, who live in a run-down old folks’ home. Weller is a cranky old coot who is obsessed with gin rummy. Clearly, no one will play with him anymore – until, that is Fonsia arrives at the home. She proceeds to win every game, which absolutely infuriates Weller. You would think that a play which consists of little more than a few hands of gin would seem rather thin. You would be wrong. Subtly, Coburn uses the card game as a metaphor for luck vs. free will, as he carefully peels back the layers of denial which have caused Weller and Fonsia to wind up in the home, forgotten and alone.

Jones and Tyson are delightful as Weller and Fonsia – astounding, actually, when you recall how old they are. The Gin Game is well worth checking out.

Robert O’Hara’s Barbecue, at the Public Theater has, alas closed. It was a brilliant comedy about a trailer trash family, meeting at a picnic area in a state park to do an intervention on their drug addict sister, named Barbara. In the first scene, they’re white trash; then, light out and up, and it’s the same family, only they’re black. Then it becomes something else entirely. I hope you got a chance to see this unique, most unusual comedy.

Still running at the Public Theater is Danai Gurira’s grim drama, Eclipsed, about 3 Liberian women who are in effect sex slaves to a warlord during that country’s civil war.

Although this is indeed grim, it’s a compelling story which needed to be told. The presence in the cast of Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’O, as the youngest of the women, has drawn a lot of buzz to the play, which is transferring to Broadway in the spring for a limited run. I can’t see this catching on with the Broadway audience these days, which is not to say you should skip it when it reopens. The all-female cast is first rate (even though the Liberian accent they are doing makes about a quarter of what they are saying unintelligible).

AMAZING GRACE, a musical about the composer of that famous hymn, has closed at the Nederlander theatre. I caught one of the last performances and thought Arthur Giron’s and Christopher Smith’s book excellent, even though I understand not all of it is exactly historically correct, and Smith’s music/lyrics mighty fine. The problem with the show was the actor who played Our Anti-Hero, John Newton. He had a James Barbour quality baritone voice but was rather a stick in the acting department. The character is a dissolute rake who sees the Error of His Ways (he’s a slave trader) and, ultimately, finds redemption. Unless you believe in his torment, you can’t believe in his redemption. I don’t blame the actor as much as I blame the director, Gabriel Barre, who should have seen the problem and helped his guy find the darker colors in his role instead of letting him act like a rather arrogant frat boy. He was the only weak link, though, in the cast, which featured terrific performances by Erin Mackey as the woman who refuses to give up on the goodness inside John Newton, and Chuck Cooper as a family slave.

Nice try, but no cigar.

Rothschild & Sons, at the York Theatre Co., was a reworking of the Boch/Harnick/Yellen Broadway musical The Rothschilds, pared down to 90 minutes with a much smaller cast. The music was lovely, and the story very compelling, about how the Rothschild family went from rags to riches, and then used their financial clout to force Germany to eliminate its repressive anti-Jewish laws. Bob Cuccioli was, as you might expect, brilliant as the Rothschild pater familias. While I don’t think this new version will make The Rothschilds part of the musical theatre canon, still it was well-worth seeing.

Lucas Hnath’s The Christians, which premiered at the 2014 Humana Festival and which has just closed at Playwrights Horizons, was a fascinating play about what happens when the leader of a mega-church announces during Sunday service that God has told him that there is, in fact, no Hell, only Heaven. This causes a rift which splits the church in two and may cause the pastor his job and his marriage. Cleverly, Hnath presents his story straightforwardly, without the satirical scorn one might expect in a play about what Christopher Hitchens called “The God Delusion.” I found it very interesting, and one of the most unusual plays I have seen in quite a while.

Finally, Atlantic Theatre Co. presented a wonderful production of Caryl Churchill’s gender-bending comedy Cloud Nine, done very simply in the round on a bare stage. Men play men and women, as do women, and there’s even a white guy who plays a black house servant in the first act (and a gay cruiser in the second act), which is about a British family in Victorian colonial Africa as the natives are getting increasingly restless.

I hope you got a chance to see this fine production of one of the seminal plays of the late 20th Century.

FOOL FOR LOVE. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

OLD TIMES. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.roundaboutheatre.org or 212-719-1300

CLEVER LITTLE LIES. Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE GIN GAME. Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.             TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

BARBECUE. Public Theater. Alas, closed

ECLIPSED. Public Theater, 435 Lafayette St.

TICKETS: 212-967-7555

AMAZING GRACE. Nederlander Theatre. Alas, closed

ROTHSCHILD & SONS. York Theatre Co. Alas, closed

THE CHRISTIANS. Playwrights Horizons. Alas, closed

CLOUD NINE. Atlantic Theatre Co. Alas, closed 

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will

 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

 

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 27 May 2015

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on SKYLIGHT, FOREVER, THE OTHER THING, HAND TO GOD and NEW COUNTRY.

David Hare’s Skylight, at the Golden Theatre, is a poignant love story about a middle aged man and a much younger woman. He’s a wealthy businessman; she’s his former assistant and mistress who left him 7 years ago and now lives in a cruddy neighborhood in north London, where she teaches underprivileged kids. He turns up and pleads with her to come back to him, his wife having died. Will she or won’t she? Were the play written by an American, that’s pretty much all it would be – a love story. But for Hare, whose work more than once has put me in mind of Shaw, it’s much more than that. Skylight is a beautifully written, deeply felt examination of what makes life worth living. Are we on this Earth to try and make it a better place, or is “What’s in it for me” all that matters?

The current production, starring Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan, is superb. Nighy is far less twitchy than usual, and he’s very eloquent as he makes his case for her dumping poverty. Mulligan is equally eloquent, as she explains why she can’t.

Skylight has another couple of weeks in its run. If you like plays which make you think, don’t miss it – if you can get a ticket.

Forever, at NY Theatre Workshop, is a memoir written by and featuring Dael Orlandersmith, wherein she related how she came to be the person she is, taking us through her abusive childhood. It starts and ends at Paris’ Pere Lachaise cemetery, where many of the literary and musical figures who touched her life are buried. Orlandersmith’s writing is extraordinary, as is she in its delivery. Ordinarily, I am not a fan of narration as opposed to drama, but Forever is an exception. It’s very powerful, and not to be missed.

Emily Schwend’s The Other Thing, at Second Stage Uptown’s McGinn/Cazale Theatre, is a creepy horror story about a free-lance journalist who becomes possessed from time to time by a demonic personality who causes her to murder men. I found the play fascinating, though I was horrified that the playwright veers perilously close to saying that the more murdered men, the better. That said, Samantha Soule’s performance as the tortured anti-heroine, Kim, is very powerful, quite a tour de force. The Other Thing is not exactly feel good theatre, particularly for guys, but I applaud the playwright for her courage and her honesty in delving into the dark corners of the female psyche.

Robert Askins’ Hand to God, at the Booth Theatre, is also about a dual personality, a teenaged boy named Jason  whose hand puppet, whom he calls Tyrone, may or may not be the Devil. Hand to God is a lot funnier than The Other Thing, though, and what makes it a better play is the titanic struggle between Jason and the thing on his hand. Stephen Boyer is giving what deserves to be a “star is born” performance as Jason/Tyrone, and Geneva Carr, who plays his mother, is extraordinary as well.

Hand to God, a new American play with no stars, seems to be making a go of it on Broadway, which is quite an achievement which I attribute to strong word of mouth.

It’s definitely a don’t-miss.

Mark Roberts’ New Country, produced by Rattlestick at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre, is a comedy about a callow, self-obsessed country music star named Jason and his entourage which includes, tonight, his slightly addled uncle, who has arrived in Las Vegas for his nephew’s wedding. Also in the mix is his ex-girlfriend, Sharon, who barges in not to disrupt the wedding but to demand a thank-you from Jason for everything she did for him before he became famous and dumped her. All the performances are wonderful, but particularly wonderful are Sarah Lemp as Sharon and the playwright (who is a very successful TV writer and producer) as Uncle Jim.

New Country is the kind of play I used to see regularly at the Humana Festival before it got all artsy-fartsy. It deserves to move; but it probably won’t, so see it while you can. It’s great fun.

SKYLIGHT. Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

FOREVER. New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St.

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

THE OTHER THING. McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway

Tickets: 212-246-4422

HAND TO GOD. Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

NEW COUNTRY. Cherry Lane Studio Theatre, 38 Commerce St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

 

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

 

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

 

                                                                                      — George F. Will

 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

 

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“On the AIsle with Larry” 13 May 2015

“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on AIRLINE HIGHWAY, DISENCHANTED, SOMETHING ROTTEN, THE VISIT, ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY and IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU.

Lisa D’Amour’s Airline Highway, a Steppenwolf import currently at the Samuel J.Friedman Theatre, is something of a throwback which put me in mind of the glory days of Circle Rep. It’s a thoroughly realistic large-cast slice of life play more about its characters than its plot. Think The Hot L Baltimore. Think Balm in Gilead (which was also a Steppenwolf import, directed by John Malkovich, with a sensational performance by an unknown-to-New York actress named Laurie Metcalfe. Both plays were by the late Lanford Wilson). D’Amour’s play is about the denizens of a seedy motel in New Orleans called The Humming Bird. There’s a seen-better-days hooker (played wonderfully by Julie White); there’s a transvestite with a heart of gold named Sissy Na Na, played with quite a flair by J. Todd Freedman (both actors are nominated for Tony Awards, by the way). What plot there is concerned the funeral of an elderly resident named Miss Ruby, once a madam. She ain’t dead yet (she’s in bad shape up in her room) but has requested that her funeral be held before her imminent demise so she can attend it. Joe Mantello has elicited fantastic performances from his ensemble cast.

As a Lanford Wilson fan, I was thrilled to see that his legacy is carrying on.

Disenchanted, at the Westside Theatre, spoofs heroines from Disney animated films, such as Belle and the Little Mermaid, done by an energetic cast of 5 women. The songs by Dennis T. Giacino (who also wrote the sorta one-joke book) are tuneful and clever. This is a great “Girls Night Out” show. I rolled my eyes more than once, but the ladies in  the audience were whooping it up.

Something Rotten, at the St. James Theatre, is that rarity these days – a Broadway musical which is not based on a popular film. It’s about a failing theatre troupe in Elizabethan London who need to come up with a New Idea which will trump their main competition, a guy named Shakespeare. Nick Bottom, the troupe’s leader, goes to a soothsayer, who predicts that the Next Big Thing will be musical comedy, so Nigel and his writer brother, Nigel, come up with a ridiculous musical comedy called “Omelette,” about a Danish prince trying to make eggs (The addled soothsayer, trying to come up with Shakespeare’s next hit so the Bottom brothers can beat him to the punch, scrambles the title, as it were).

Brian D’Arcy James and John Cariani are hilarious as the Bottoms, and Brad Oscar equally so as the Soothsayer, Thomas Nostradamus (not him – his nephew). The book, by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell and the  music and lyrics by Wayne and Carey Kirkpatrick are as funny as The Producers or Spamalot, loaded with witty references to musicals of the future, such as Cats.

You won’t find a funnier show on Broadway, except for maybe The Book of Mormon, and who can get into that?

The Visit, at the Lyceum Theatre, is a musicalization by Kander and Ebb of the great play of the same title by Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, about the world’s wealthiest woman who returns to her impoverished home town to enact revenge on the man who wronged her as a girl. She offers to give every citizen a million marks if they will kill the guy. Of course, everyone refuses – and then starts buying things on credit. Chita Rivera, although she’s more than a little creaky by this point, is striking as Claire, the rich woman intent on revenge, and Rogers Rees is touching her lover long ago whom she wants killed.

I think this is well worth seeing – but do so soon, because after the Tony Awards I don’t think it will be around much longer. There’s just too much competition, and this is not exactly an “audience-friendly” show.

The revival of On the Twentieth Century (book by Comden and Green, music by Cy Coleman), at the American Airlines Theatre is, if anything, even better than the original production. It stars Peter Gallagher as an insolvent Broadway producer named Oscar Jaffe and Kristin Chenoweth as the screen goddess he discovered and bedded years ago, named Lili Garland. who are both on the Twentieth Century Limited on its way from Chicago to New York. If Oscar can get Lily to star in his next Broadway project, a ridiculous epic of Joan of Arc which hasn’t even been written yet, all his woes are over. Problem is, she hates him. She’s travelling with her boy toy and recent co-star, Bruce Granit, played wonderfully by Andy Karl. Gallagher and Chenoweth and simply sensational, as are Scott Ellis’ direction, Warren Carlyle’s choreography and William Ivey Long’s sumptuous costumes.

You’ll get real bang for your buck with this one. Don’t miss it.

On the other hand, you could skip It Shoulda Been You at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, a contrived, unfunny musical loaded with tired ethnic humor about a wedding. She’s Jewish – he’s a goy. Both, it turns out, are gay. Oy, vey …

AIRLINE HIGHWAY. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

DISENCHANTED. Westside Theatre. 407 W. 43rd St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

SOMETHING ROTTEN. St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE VISIT. Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. American Airlines Theatre, 229 W. 42nd St

TICKETS: www.roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300

IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU. Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St.

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

 

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“On the AIsle with Larry” 29 April 2015

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York and, this time, in Louisville. In this column, Larry reports on 39 STEPS, FINDING NEVERLAND, THE KING AND I, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, THE BELLE OF BELFAST and the HUMANA FESTIVAL.

The 39 Steps is back, this time Off Broadway at the Union Square Theatre, For Some Strange Reason “re-branded” as 39 Steps, once again directed by Maria Aitken but with a new cast except for Arnie Burton, who plays one half of the team of intrepid clowns who play multiple roles, often in a quick-change blink of an eye. The play is a spoof of the Hitchcock movie about an idle man who gets caught up in trying to foil a Nazi spy ring, done with 4 actors, 3 of whom play a cast of, seemingly, thousands. Aitken’s direction is as clever as ever, and Robert Petkoff, as Our Hero Richard Hannay, is as good as the guy who did it originally. Also wonderful is recent Juilliard grad Brittany Vicars, a gifted comic actress, who plays many of the female roles, from spy to Scottish housewife. I say “many” because equally many of the ladies are played wonderfully by the two aforementioned male clowns.

If you missed The 39 Steps before, here’s your chance to see it, albeit as “39 Steps.” If you saw it and loved it before, as I did, here’s your chance laugh with it once again.

Finding Neverland, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre is a musicalization (book by James Graham, music & lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy) of the movie which starred Johnny Depp as J.M. Barrie, the author or Peter Pan, which itself was adapted from Allan Knee’s play, The Man Who Was Peter Pan. It’s the story of how a rather conventional boulevard playwright came to write one of the great works of the dramatic imagination, inspired by his friendship with a widow and her 4 sons.

You may have heard that this show is a turkey. It’s not. It’s inventively staged by Diane Paulus and features terrific performances by Matthew Morrison, as Barrie, and Laura Michelle Kelly as the boys’ mother, with delightful supporting turns by Kelsey Grammer, as impresario Charles Frohman and a wonderfully wicked Captain Hook, and Carolee Carmello as the boys’ grandmother. There are several wonderful songs, by Gary Balow and Eliot Kennedy, beautifully sung by Morrison, Kelly and Carmello, and humorously sung by Grammer. I could quibble with this and that, but overall this is a very entertaining show. See it soon, though. It got shut out of the Tony Awards, so it’s a big loser in the Tony Roulette and probably won’t run much longer.

While I quite enjoyed Finding Neverland, I loved Lincoln Center Theatre’s wonderful revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, featuring the always-incandescent Kelli O’Hara as Anna and Japanese actor Ken Watanabe as the King of Siam. My only quibble with Watanabe’s performance is that sometimes he is difficult to understand, which was a minor inconvenience to me as I know the show so well, but which will prove problematic if this is your first time seeing this great musical. Bartlett Sher’s direction is superb, and the supporting players are wonderful, my faves being Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang and Ashley Park as Tuptim. Catherine Zuber’s costumes are lush and lavish, and Michael Yeargan’s sets are spectacular. The Tony Award for best revival of a musical is shaping up to be quite a horse race. All three nominees (the others are On the Town and On the Twentieth Century) are terrific. I must confess, I hold a candle for On the Town, not only because it’s so good but because if it doesn’t win it will close. For some reason, although it has received excellent reviews it has struggled at the box office. On the Twentieth Century and The King and I have subscription audiences to jump-start them, and both have mega-stars (Kelli O’Hara and, in On the Twentieth Century, Kristin Chenoweth). I’m hoping that On the Town will turn out to be this season’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which also struggled until it won the Tony, after which it started selling out. Such is the power of the Tony Awards. They can make you a hit or they can kill you.

Another supposed turkey, Doctor Zhivago, at the Broadway Theatre, got slammed in the NY Times by the Ish for imitating British pop musicals such as Les Miserables. And that’s a bad thing? The Ish also said that both the novel and the David Lean film, upon which this new show is based, are boring. Well, Mr. Ish, Boris Pasternak’s novel is one of the great master works of the 20th Century, and shortly after its publication in Italy (it was banned in the U.S.S.R.) Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. And as for the film it, too, is a masterpiece. So much for critical objectivity.

That said, is the new musical version of Doctor Zhivago perfect? No. Michael Weller’s book has a Cliff Notes feeling to it, and I quibble strongly with the inclusion of “Lara’s Theme (Somewhere, My Love”) from the film. Tam Mutu, in the title role, sings beautifully but lacks the passionate intensity that Omar Sharif brought to the role in the film, and Kelli Barrett (Lara), although she too sings beautifully, seems like a generic blonde Broadway diva – and I never felt the chemistry that burned through the celluloid when Sharif and Julie Christie (Lara in the film) were together.

All of that said, Doctor Zhivago is still a great story, confusing and simplistic at times but still very compelling, with a lovely score by Lucy Simon, inventively directed by Des McAnuff. Like Finding Neverland, it lost in the Tony Roulette and will soon die the death. It’s too bad.

Irish Rep has been ensconced this season in the DR2 Theatre, where their current offering, The Belle of Belfast by Nate Rufus Edelman, has just opened in a beautiful production directed by Claudia Weill. The play is set in Belfast in 1985, during the height of the Troubles, and concerns a surly teenaged girl who has lost both her parents in an I.R.A. bombing, and a handsome young priest. She’s in love with him, and pursues him until he finally succumbs, with poignant consequences for them both. Kate Lydic and Hamish Allan-Headley are wonderful as the girl and the priest, and there is strong supporting work from Patricia Connoly, who plays a gossipy old lady who goes every day to confession to have someone to talk to, Arielle Hoffman, who plays the girl’s friend and Bill Meleady as an elderly priest more interested in getting drunk than in ministering to his flock – a stock Irish character, to be sure, but Mcleady is so delightful you don’t care.

The Belle of Belfast is one of the finest productions I have seen at Irish Rep, and well worth checking out.

Finally, I attended this year’s Humana Festival, which I have attended every year save two since 1980. I had to skip one year when I was on the Drama Desk Nominating Committee, because we had to see 23 shows in April (all before the 22nd, which was our cut-off date, and I boycotted last year’s festival when they brought back that humbug Anne Bogart for the 6th or 7th time, whose event most people felt was the Bomb of the Festival – as it has been every year they have inflicted her on their audience. They think she’s a genius. I say, the emperor has no clothes.

Fortunately, Actors Theatre of Louisville decided not to Bogart that joint this year. While there were no break-out hits, all the plays I saw were thoroughly engaging (I skipped the Chuck Mee play because I needed to get back, because I don’t get his work and because several people I talked to who had seen it disliked it (one called it the “worst pile of crap I have ever seen” – to which I replied, “Well, I guess you’ve never seen an Anne Bogart production”).

This year, my faves were Dot by Colman Domingo and The Roommate by Jen Silverman.

Dot was a conventional, realistic family drama about an African American family in Philadelphia dealing with Mom’s increasing dementia, with a terrific performance by Sharon Washington as the eldest daughter, Shelly, who’s been coping with Mom and who can’t seem to get her siblings to understand the scope of the problem. Marjorie Johnson as Dotty, the mother, was also a standout in director Merridith McDonough’s terrific cast. Domingo told me that there are plans afoot to bring this fine play to New York. I hope so – and I also hope that the cultural ayatollahs here will not damn it because it’s from the Humana Festival, as they have done so many times in recent years.

The Roommate was a two-hander about a middle aged Midwestern woman who takes in a roomie from New York who turns out to be not only a lesbian but a grifter on the lam. The two actresses (Margaret Daly as the landlord and Tasha Lawrence as the roommate) were wonderful under the subtle direction of Mike Donahue. The play kinda fizzled out at the end, but still it was a very humorous clash-of-cultures play which deserves a further life.

Erin Courtney’s I Will Be Gone was a rather convoluted drama about the denizens of a small town in California, living near an abandoned mining town which may be haunted. As it wore on, I got less and less interested. That said, the cast was great, as was Kip Fagan’s direction.

The weirdest play of the Festival was I Promised Myself to Live Faster, a gay sci-fi epic, which was a Ridiculous (in the Charles Ludlam sense) devised-text play by Gregory Moss with Pig Iron Theatre Company out of Philadelphia, wherein a depressed young gay guy gets sucked into an alternative universe by three nuns, who need him to recapture the Eternal Gay Flame, which enables the creation of more gay people and which has been stolen by the evil emperor, who plans to eat it. The play got sillier and sillier as it wore on, but the cast was delightful. It wouldn’t surprise me if it turned up here as Pig Iron has something of a reputation in New York, having won an Obie Award.

Although the Humana Festival is not nearly the Big Deal that it used to be, you still ought to make the hajj to Louisville at least once. Maybe next year?

39 STEPS. Union Square Theatre, 100 E. 17th ST

TICKETS: 800-982-2787

FINDING NEVERLAND. Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St.

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000

THE KING AND I. Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE BELLE OF BELFAST. DR2 Theatre, 103 E. 15th St

TICKETS: www.irishrep.org

2015 Humana Festival. Actors Theatre of Louisville.

www.actorstheatre.org

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

 

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 21 April, 2015

Lawrence Harbison, the Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on WOLF HALL, THE AUDIENCE, GIGI, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, BUZZER and THE HEIDI CHRONICLES.

Every year, a few West End hits are brought to Broadway. Earlier this season, we had The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is still going strong and likely to receive 3 or 4 Tony Nominations, and the recent openings of Wolf Hall and The Audience, both historical dramas. Wolf Hall, at the Winter Garden Theatre, adapted by Mike Poulton from Hillary Mantel’s best-selling novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, is about political maneuverings in Tudor England; The Audience, at the Schoenfeld Theatre, is about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

 

The central character in Wolf Hall is Thomas Cromwell, here depicted not as the devious, unscrupulous manipulator as history has it but as a man of principle who revered his predecessor in King Henry VIII’s favor, Cardinal Wolsey, and who understands the crisis which will occur if the King dies without a male heir. The first part of the play deals with the fall of Wolsey, the annulment of the King’s marriage to his first wife, Katharine, and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. The second part is about the plot to get rid of Anne and replace her with Jane Seymour, ending with Anne’s execution as well as that of her supposed lovers.

Wolf Hall is very compelling as drama but spurious as history. Here’s an example: Cromwell tricks the Queen’s musician, Mark Smeaton, into “confessing” he had sex with her and into naming everyone else who did as well, posing as his friend who is just trying to save him. In fact, Cromwell had Smeaton racked in the Tower. Cromwell is almost a Man for All Seasons here, almost a heroic figure.

That said, the production, directed by Jeremy Herrin, on Christopher Horam’s gloomy unit set, the actors costumed by Horam in monochromatic colors, lit by David Platner’s gloomy lighting, is a real gripper. Ben Miles is terrific as Mantel/Poulton’s Cromwell, though hardly history’s, and Nathaniel Parker equally so as the King. In fact, the entire cast is first rate, which you would expect from the Royal Shakespeare Company. Wolf Hall plays in two parts, so it’s quite an investment in time and money, but it’s worth it.

The Audience, by Peter Morgan, is structured as a series of meetings the Queen had with nine of her Prime Ministers, who included Sir Winston Churchill, John Major, Sir Anthony Eden and Margaret Thatcher. Apparently, she meets with her P.M. of the moment every Tuesday evening for twenty minutes, who briefs her about what’s going on in Parliament. Helen Mirren, spectacular as Queen Elizabeth, ages from a young princess awaiting her coronation to a woman well into sixties. This is a beautifully written and performed portrait of the human side of this iconic figure. Even if you’re not a fan, you’re likely to shout, “God save the Queen!” at the curtain call.

Gigi, at the Neil Simon Theatre, and An American in Paris, at the Palace Theatre, both celebrate Paris, though in different ways. The Belle Époque Paris of Gigi (a revival of the Lerner and Loewe musical which was first a film and then a short-lived Broadway show) is a lovely place filled with callow, superficial people. It’s about a young girl who’s being groomed for a woman’s highest calling, to be the mistress of a married man. The show itself is determinedly old-fashioned. The post-World War II Paris of An American in Paris, on the other hand, is a magical place where love reigns supreme. It’s about a young American serviceman who falls in love with an aspiring ballerina. He has two rivals, though – an American pianist and composer and a French man whose family, it turns out, hid Our Heroine from the Nazis during the war. She feels obligated to marry him, but finds herself falling in love with Our Hero, the ex-G.I. The nebbish-y pianist has no shot.

Of the two, I much preferred An American in Paris. It’s inventively directed and brilliantly choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, and catapaults him into the front rank of Broadway stagers. Wheeldon’s choreography is even better than the dancing in On the Town – and that’s saying a lot. He has cast two world class ballet dancers as the leads who, it turns out, can also sing beautifully. Robert Fairchild is a fabulous dancer with the all the charisma of Gene Kelly, who played his role in the film, and Leanne Cope is wonderful as the ballerina. This one’s a don’t miss.

I also enjoyed Tracey Scott Wilson’s Buzzer, at the Public Theater. It’s a drama about a young couple (he’s black, she’s white) who move into a renovated luxury apartment right smack in the middle of the hood. Conflicts surface when they take in an old friend of his from prep school, a white guy who’s been in and out of rehab and who has no place else to go, and when she can’t take being harassed anymore by the local street toughs. I had a few credibility issues with the play, but still I found it an honest exploration of race as it effects three very likeable people.

Wendy Wasserstein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Heidi Chronicles, at the Music Box Theatre, has been revived in a wonderful production by Pam McKinnon, starring Elizabeth Moss as the eponymous heroine, whose life from the 1960’s through the 1980’s becomes a  mirror of the lives of many women who hoped to have it all. In its time, it had a compelling contemporaneity – now, I’m afraid, it seems like something of a period piece. Still, the cast is terrific. I wouldn’t call The Heidi Chronicles a must-see, but it’s still worth checking out. 

WOLF HALL. Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE AUDIENCE. Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th ST.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

GIGI. Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000

BUZZER. Public Theater, 435 Lafayette St.

TICKETS: 212-967-7555

THE HEIDI CHRONICLES. Music Box Theatre, 239 w. 45TH St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200 

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

 

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 14 March, 2015

“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on FISH IN THE DARK, THE NETHER, ABUNDANCE, APPLICATION PENDING, JOHN & JEN and THE LION.

I don’t watch much television, so I have never seen Larry David’s show, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and I only saw a few episodes of Seinfeld, so I did not know what to expect when I went to see Fish in The Dark at the Cort Theatre, which David not only wrote but in which he appears. Turns out, the play is the sort of dysfunctional family comedy Charles Busch parodied brilliantly in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, a genre pretty much absent from Broadway since the heyday of Neil Simon. David plays one of two sons whose father is dying. When dear old dad finally kicks the bucket, the problem is what to do about Mom. Which son did the Dad want her to live with?

The play is often very funny, and so is Larry David – when you can understand him. His speech rhythms are almost always of the rapid fire variety but his poor diction makes it hard to get what he is saying. Who cares? The audience loves him, and he’s backed up by a wonderful cast, whose standouts include Jane Houdyshell as the Mom, Ben Shenkman as David’s brother and Rosie Perez as a housekeeper with a secret.

Fish in the Dark is surprisingly good. Go – if you can get a ticket.

Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, produced by MCC at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is set in the future and is about the next generation of the internet, wherein people can actually enter virtual worlds and act out their fantasies. A detective is investigating a man who runs one such site, where pervs can go to have sex with little girls and then dismember them. It’s horrifying, but fortunately we never actually see this happening. Haley holds back some surprising secrets, which I never saw coming. Anne Kauffman’s direction is brilliant, and there are chillingly superb performances from Frank Wood and Peter Friedman, both of whom I have never seen do better work.

The Nether is shocking in its depiction of a possible dystopian future, but it’s nonetheless fascinating.

I somehow missed Beth Henley’s Abundance when it was produced by Manhattan Theatre Club in the early 90’s, so seeing TACT’s revival at the Samuel Beckett Theatre was for me like seeing a new play by one of my favorite playwrights. It’s about two mail order brides come to Wyoming from Back East. Macon marries a dull but dependable man while Bess marries her intended’s brother, her intended having passed away, who is, to put it mildly, a lout. One couple prospers, the other doesn’t. Eventually, Bess is captured by Indians. When she’s rescued several years later she’s catatonic and her face is covered with tattoos. Gradually, she begins to recover from the effects of her ordeal, and when a sharpie from Back East arrives to help her write her story she winds up rich and famous, while Macon  winds up destitute.

Abundance is a compelling story and features wonderful performances by Tracy Middendorf as Bess and Kelly McAndrew as Macon, under the lovely direction of Jenn Thompson. Definitely recommended!

Application Pending, at the Westside Theatre, is a comedy by Andy Sandberg and Greg Edwards about a frazzled admissions director at an elite elementary school, until recently a teacher at the school who’s been “promoted” when her predecessor left under a mysterious cloud. Christina Bianco plays Our Heroine and at least 40 other characters, from desperate parents willing to do anything to get their kid admitted to her monstrous boss to her unscrupulous opposite number at another school to, well, many others, and she’s hilarious. It’s a tour de force performance which is not to be missed.

As I have often stated, I am a theatre geezer. You know you’re a theatre geezer when you start seeing revivals of plays and musicals and you saw the original production. I saw the original production at the now-gone Lambs Theatre of the AndrewLippa/Tom Greenwald musical John & Jen and I remember being unimpressed. I am even less impressed after seeing the current revival by Keen Company at the Harold Clurman Theatre. This 2-character musical follows the lives of a sister and her younger brother, beginning with his birth and going on to their political divergence. Jen becomes a Vietnam War protester, while John goes into the military and fights in that war. The show is almost all through-sung, and almost all the songs go on and on and on, if you know what I mean. Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan do the best they can, but they are hampered by Jonathan Silverstein’s uninventive direction.

Finally, at the Lynn Redgrave Theatre there is a wonderful one-man show called The Lion, written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer, wherein Scheuer tells the story of his life in song and story, detailing his contentious relationship with his father, who died young, and his girlfriend, who left him to “find herself,” to his fight against cancer, which almost killed him. Scheuer accompanies himself on several different guitars. The songs are very inventive often ineffably beautiful, and his musicianship is phenomenal. He’s hands-down the best guitarist I have even seen or heard. Add to this to his charismatic good looks (he kind of looks like a cuter, nicer version of the late Robert Palmer) and you have one of the most unusual and, indeed, moving shows currently running.

The Lion is not to be missed.

FISH IN THE DARK. Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE NETHER.Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St.

TICKETS: 212-352-3101

ABUNDANCE. Samuel Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

APPLICATION PENDING. Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

JOHN & JEN. Harold Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE LION. Lynn Redgrave Theatre, 45 Bleecker St.

TICKETS: 866-811-4111 

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

 

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“On the Aisle with Larry 23 February, 2015

“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on HAMILTON, RASHEEDA SPEAKING, EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH, CHURCHILL and THE EVENTS.

I am, to put it mildly, not a fan of hip-hop, which I consider doggerel set to noise. Still, I always go to the theatre hoping that what I see will be wonderful, as I did when I went to Hamilton, at the Public Theater, even though I had heard it was mostly in the hip-hop idiom. This new musical, with book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (he of In the Heights fame) tells the story of Alexander Hamilton. Yes, a lot of it is hip-hop. All of it is absolutely brilliant.

Thomas Kail’s staging of this wonderfully witty and ultimately very touching work is epochal, the best direction of a new musical this season, and Miranda is wonderful in the eponymous role. Also great are Phillipa Soo as Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, and Leslie Odom, Jr. as his nemesis, Aaron Burr.

Unfortunately, the entire run at the Public Theater is sold out, except for a handful of tickets sold by lottery for every performance. I went on a weekend matinee, and there were about 100 people waiting in the lobby, hoping their names would be called. Fortunately, Hamilton is almost certainly moving to Broadway. When it does, don’t miss it.

I also enjoyed Joel Drake Johnson’s Rasheeda Speaking, produced by the New Group at the Signature Center, about two clerical workers in a doctor’s office. Ileen, who has been there for several years, is white; Jaclyn, there for six months, is black. Jaclyn has quite an “attitude problem,” which concerns the doctor, who wants to get rid of her. In this day and age, though, that can be a real problem if the problematic employee is black, so he enlists the very reluctant Ileen to keep a record of all the problems Jaclyn causes. In a climactic monologue, though, Jaclyn brings home the root cause of her “bad attitude,” and what emerges is a thoughtful examination of what it means to be black in what is still a white man’s world.

Tonya Pinkins is, to put it mildly, sensational as Jaclyn; but she is matched by Dianne Wiest as the namby-pamby, go along to get along Ileen. These are two of the finest performances in any play this season.

Sheila Callaghan’s Everything You Touch, produced by Rattlestick at the Cherry Lane Theatre is a fascinating, surreal look at the fashion industry. Victor is an enfant terrible designer whose muse, Esme, pushes him to get more and more outrageous with his designs. Two women come into his world – Jess, a plain-Jane type and Lonella, a refugee from the Midwest, who influence him to begin designing clothes that women might actually wear. There is a chorus of models who move through the play, wearing Victor’s designs.

The actors, under Jessica Kubzansky’s fluid and inventive direction, are just plain wonderful. Everything You Touch is sometimes hard to figure out, but stick with it. Sheila Callaghan is a true visionary, that rare non-realistic playwright who manages to make it all cohere. And Jenny Feldenauer’s costumes are spectacular!

Churchill, at New World Stages, written by and starring Ronald Keaton in the eponymous roles, is a standard-issue biographical monodrama. Sir Winston is in his study, talking to us. Who “we” are is never made clear. Most of it covers Churchill’s military and political careers up until World War Two, and his fall from power after the war was won. Keaton looks a little like Churchill, but he lacks his stentorian growl. He seems more like your jolly uncle than one of the pivotal figures of the 20th Century. Still, his is a fascinating story. If you don’t know much about Churchill, here’s your chance to learn something.

Every year, philanthropist/producer Carol Tambor spends a month at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, sees a gazillion shows, and chooses what she considers to be the best of them all, which she then produces off Broadway. This year’s Tambor Award winner is David Greig’s The Events, at NY Theatre Workshop. It’s about a female cleric who runs the choir at her church. At every performance, a different choir participates. I saw/heard the Lafayette Inspirational Ensemble. There’s also a man who interacts with the minister, appearing to play various roles – but you’re never sure who he’s supposed to be at any given time. I think the play is about a mass shooting, but it’s so murky and confusing it’s hard to tell. The Events is interminable. It has no interval, and several audience members ditched in the middle of it, including half my row. Ah well, at least the music was enjoyable. 

HAMILTON. Public Theater, 435 Lafayette St.

TICKETS: The entire run is sold out.

RASHEEDA SPEAKING. Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH. Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St.

TICKETS: 212-989-2020

CHURCHILL New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE EVENTS. NY Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200 

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

 

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 5 February, 2015

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, WINNERS, FILM CHINOIS, THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS and AMONTH IN THE COUNTRY.

Honeymoon in Vegas, at the Nederlander Theatre, is an old fashioned musical comedy of the sort once regularly directed by the likes of George Abbott. In this case, retro is a good thing. The show is great fun; pure, Broadway entertainment that’s been sorely missed. Not that I don’t enjoy all the “serious” shows I see night after night – I do. It’s just nice to have a break from all the alienation and despair once in a while.

It’s based on the movie which starred Nicholas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker as a Brooklyn couple who come to Las Vegas to get married. The owner of their hotel, a rather shady character, takes one look at the bride to be and decides he’s gotta have her because she reminds him of his deceased wife. He snookers the groom in a poker game and basically wins her for a weekend, during which he tries to persuade her to marry him instead. Will she, or won’t she?

Rob McLure and Brynn O’Malley are charming as the couple, Jack and Betsy, although you have to suspend your disbelief that a total babe like Brynn is marrying a schmo like McLure. Tony Danza, as Tommy, the hotel owner, sings well, tap dances, plays the ukulele and completely steals the show. Also terrific are Nancy Opel as Jack’s dead mother, who nevertheless pops up from time to time to try and stop him from getting married, as no woman could possibly be good better than Mom, and David Josefsburg as a lounge lizard singer and the head of the parachuting “Flying Elvises.”

Jason Robert Brown’s songs are just plain wonderful. This gifted composer has finally found his groove.

Even with sheaves of great reviews, Honeymoon in Vegas is struggling at the box office. If it can hang on, it just might have a shot at the Tony Award. After all, remember what happened with A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder?

Winners, a comedy by Maggie Bofill at Ensemble Studio Theatre, turns the traditional dysfunctional family play on its ear. Dad’s been unemployed for a year and Mom, now the breadwinner, is having an affair with her boss. Their teenaged son Tommy has been fired from his after school job at the Gap for smoking weed. Dad goes over there to talk to the boss, who turns out to be an old friend, and winds up being hired to replace Tommy. The most interesting character, though, is daughter Gabby, part science geek, part performance artists and part superhero fanatic. Together, she and Tommy devise a hilarious production wherein they bring this troubled family together again. Pam Berlin’s direction is appropriately whacky, and there are fine performances – particularly from David Gelles and Arielle Goldman as the two kids.

Winners is a winner.

Damon Chua’s Film Chinois, at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, is a murky tale of deception and skullduggery in 1947 Beijing. Seemingly everyone is a spy of some sort. It gets more and more confusing as it plays out, and winds up being a real head-scratcher; but the production by Pan Asian Rep is one of the best I have seen in quite a while and the performances are all first rate.

Film Chinois, while not a must-see, ain’t bad.

Tom Dulack’s The Road to Damascus, at 59 E 59, is a must-see. It’s set in the not too distant future. There has been a terrorist attack in New York, and the U.S. government thinks the Syrians (who are now post-Assad) are behind it so they plan to bomb Damascus to rubble. Set against them is the first African Pope, who has decided to fly to Damascus to present the destruction as a human shield. Also involved are a female journalist from “Al Arabya” TV and a State Department official (with whom she is having an affair), who is sent to the Vatican to try and talk the Pope out of going to Damascus. There, he learns the truth about the terrorist bombing.

The Road to Damascus is a gripping geo-political thriller which will have you on the edge of your seat. It’s been superbly directed by Michael Parva and features a cast of terrific actors. My faves were Mel Johnson, Jr. as the Pope and Larisa Polonsky as the Chechnyan Muslim TV reporter.

Finally, there’s a new production of Turgenev’s A Month in the Country at Classic Stage Co., featuring TV stars Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) and Taylor Schilling (“Orange is the New Black”). It’s been mostly slammed by the press, faulting director Erica Schmidt’s production which many found languid. Well, folks, her direction isn’t outstanding but it’s OK. The problem is the play. It’s a proto-Chekhovian comedy set in a country house with none of the social context which makes Chekhov’s plays endure. Of the actors, Taylor Schilling comes off best. I hope she does theatre again, in a better play.

HONEYMOON IN VEGAS. Nederlander Theatre, 208 W. 41st St.

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 866-870-2717

WINNERS. Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52nd St.

TICKETS: 212-247-4982

FILM CHINOIS. Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS. 59 E 59 Theatres, 59 E. 59th St.

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com of 212-279-4200

A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY. Classic Stage Co., 136 E. 13th St.

TICKETS: 212-352-3101

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

 

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