Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry reports on BRING IT ON, CHAPLIN, FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: ALIVE AND KICKING, COUGAR , THE ANDERSON TWINS PLAY THE FABULOUS DORSEYS, MARY BROOME, RED-HANDED OTTER, HEARTLESS and THE TRAIN DRIVER. 

Bring It On! At the St. James Theatre, this season’s first Broadway musical, has started the season off with a bang. High school cheerleading has sure progressed since the long ago days of yesteryear when I was a teen; although, to be honest, the teen I was once is still part of me – which may be one of the reasons why I enjoyed this show so much. 

Apparently, cheerleading now involves gymnastics, acrobatics and high-pressure competitions. Our heroine, Campbell, has dreams of winning the national championship; until, that is, she is mysteriously transferred from her suburban school to an inner city one. Turns out, book writer Jeff Whitty has provided an Eve Harrington-like villain (her name is even Eva), who has connived so that Campbell is out of the way so she can become captain of the cheerleading squad, while Campbell finds herself stuck, one of the few white kids, in a school with no squad. Will Campbell manage to fit in? Will she manage to persuade her rowdy new classmates to form a squad and take on her former school? 

Whitty’s book is snappy and clever, and the songs (Music: Tom Kitt/Lin Manuel Miranda; Lyrics: Miranda and Amanda Green) are terrific. Andy Blankenbuehler’s direction and choreography are great as well. Taylor Louderman is delightful as Campbell, as is Adrienne Warren as Danielle, her nemesis at her new school who finally agrees to help Campbell in her glorious quest to form a top-notch cheerleading squad. In fact, all the young performers in the show are great. 

The plan is to run this for a while on Broadway and then take it out on a national tour. Once high school kids and drama directors get a load of it, I expect it will become one of the most-produced shows in schools. 

Chaplin, at the Barrymore Theatre, has gotten rather dismissive reviews. It deserves better. The book, by Christopher Curtis and Thomas Meehan, is brilliant, and Christopher Curtis’ songs are wonderful. Director/choreographer Warren Carlyle has fashioned a very cinematic production, almost all in black, white and gray. You’d think this would get tiresome, but the costume designs by Amy Clark and the late Martin Pakledinaz are endlessly inventive. 

But the main reason to see this show is the simply astonishing performance by Rob McClure as Charlie Chaplin. You won’t believe what you’re seeing. 

Chaplin looks to be this season’s Bonnie & Clyde – a terrific crowd-pleaser which may not run very long because a handful of cultural ayatollahs scorned it. Don’t pay any attention to them. 

After a three-year hiatus, Gerard Alessandrini’s back with a new edition of Forbidden Broadway at the 47th St. Theatre, Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking, which is one of the best FBs I have seen in many a year. One can always count on Alessandrini for brilliantly witty skewers of current and recent Broadway shows, and you’ll get a lot of these here; but what really carries the show is his brilliant cast, in hilarious costumes by Philip Heckman. Nothing is sacred for Alessandrini, even Broadway darlings like Sutton Foster and Patti Lupone. Alessandrini, in the tradition of many great theatrical satirists going back to Aristophanes, makes fun of the present, which he feels is a pale imitation of the Good Old Days. That may or may not be true; but even if you loved some of the shows and performances he lampoons, or even if you haven’t seen them, you’ll have a rollicking good time. 

While not as across-the-board fun as Forbidden Broadway, Cougar, at Theatre at St. Luke’s, is surprisingly good. I say “surprisingly” because a musical about 40-ish woman in pursuit of sex with young men sounds, well, tacky. Sometimes it is; but it won me over anyway with its fun mix of amusing lyrics by Donna Moore (with several different composers), its witty staging by Lynne Taylor-Corbett and the winning performances by Catherine Porter, Brenda Braxton and Babs Winn as the three cougars and Danny Bernhardy, who plays various male roles as well as a chatty nails lady. 

Probably, this show will prove most appealing to older women – but I’m not an old broad and I had a good time. 

The Anderson Twins, identical twin jazz musicians who regularly gig in the lounge of 59 E 59, have moved into the smallest of the three theatres there with The Anderson Twins Play the Fabulous Dorseys, an homage to the music of big band era band leaders Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, which consists of chamber arrangements of various Dorsey hits, interspersed with scenes from a terrible film about the Dorsey brothers. The Andersons also make a half-hearted attempt at the sort of sibling rivalry which drove the Dorseys apart for many years. This is even worse than having to watch scenes from the movie, not only because it’s silly and unnecessary but because the Andersons are terrible actors. 

When the Andersons and their side men just stick to the music, though, the show is great. 

Mary Broome, the current offering at the Mint, is like all Mint productions – good acting, good direction and inventive design. The play itself, by Allan Monkhouse, is minor Mint. It’s a well-constructed well-made play about a ne’re-do-well younger son of a well to do English family who gets the maid preggers and is forced by his stern father to marry her. Director Jonathan Bank’s production doesn’t make the case that Mary Broome is an unjustly forgotten classic, like many of Mint’s productions have. But it’s a solid production with fine performances by the ensemble. Is it worth seeing? Absolutely – as is everything at the Mint. 

Ethan Lipton’s Red-Handed Otter, at the Cherry Lane Studio, is a quirky play about a security crew at an unnamed big company, the kind of people who have to sit their shifts watching a wall of TV screens showing every room in the building. A lot of it seemed to me to be wheel-spinning, but Mike Donahue’s direction covers up a lot of the play’s weaknesses and makes them feel like strengths. 

Sam Shepard’s Heartless has just finished its all-too-brief run at Signature Theatre Center. I hope you had a chance to see it, because it was Classic Shepard – weird, Western and mythic. A young woman has hooked up with a much older man, who is sort of on the lam from his life. They are staying at the family home in the hills above Los Angeles. Also on hand are the woman’s spinsterish sister, her disabled and demented mother, and the mother’s mysterious nurse. Lois Smith was riveting as the mother, and everyone in the cast was fine as well in this very complex play. 

Athol Fugard’s The Train Driver, which also ran at Signature, has also closed. It took place in a potter’s field in an impoverished township in South Africa and was about a guilt-wracked man whose train struck and killed a woman and her baby. He is trying to find her grave with the help of an elderly grave digger who lives in a shack in the midst of the graves. The play was rather talky, but Fugard’s wonderful language and the performances by Ritchie Coster, in the title role, and Leon Addison Brown as the gravedigger made this a powerful evening. 

BRING IT ON. St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.

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

CHAPLIN. Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.

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

FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: ALIVE AND KICKING. 47th St. Theatre, 304 W. 47th St.

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

COUGAR. Theatre at St. Luke’s, 308 W. 46th St.

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

THE ANDERSON TWINS PLAY THE FABULOUS DORSEYS. 59 E 59

            Tickets: www.ticketcentral.com or 2121-279-4200.

MARY BROOME. Mint Theatre, 311 W. 43rd St.

            Tickets: 866-811-4111 or www.minttheater.org

RED-HANDED OTTER. Cherry Lane Studio, 38 Commerce St.

            Tickets: 866-811-4111

HEARTLESS. Signature Theatre. Alas, closed.

THE TRAIN DRIVER. Signature Theatre. 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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