Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Scrambled Eggs

I am not the target audience for Scrambled Eggs, now playing at The Beckett Theater.  I could tell that from the raucous laughter than erupted around me over and over during the 90 minutes show.  Scrambled Eggs plays to an appreciative audience that filled the Beckett Theater and reveled in the show.
Jim Frangione and Amy Von Nostrand in Scrambled Eggs
The story, by Robin Amos Kahn and Gary Richards, is a trip with Karen through the funhouse which pre-menopause has made of her life.  Amy Van Nostrand gives voice to Karen, taking us along with her on the hideous and hilarious emotional rollercoaster.   Ms. Nostrand plays the role extremely well; delivering the piece as a shared survivor experience that resonated with the crowd.  She made the entire feminine journey seem like one of those war-time buddy moves, complete with both friendly and enemy fire.
Annie O’Sullivan proved the funniest foil as Karen’s mother, accidently provide lots and lots of friendly fire.  She delivered some great moments as the member of the older generation who saw all of womanhood as a plight to be tolerated.  Jim Frangione as Karen’s husband also provided comic relief as the loving but befuddled husband.
Amy Van Nostrand as Karen with Jim Frangione & Anne O'Sullivan as her parents
The other players, Candice Brecker, Michael Dean Morgan and Mary Catherine Wright along with Mr. Frangione and Ms. O’Sullivan played a variety of characters that Karen interacted with.  All did yeomen work within the parameters of the play.
The play's dynamics proved more challenging to audience members that couldn’t directly relate to the shared experience.  It is set up as a monologue / comedy set by Karen, where the other characters exist to provide a punch line or set up a joke.  Karen’s indiscriminate but contained anger and angst is viewed as funny, when it sometimes borders on the maniacal.  Her frustration shows through, but is rather one note stretched to 90 minutes.
Karen has little patience for people, situations or entire states when they get on her bad side.  In reasonable doses this is funny, at a constant stream it begins to grate.  One wonders if Karen has a good side (she does, late in the play we see a softer Karen).
Matthew Penn directs Scrambled Eggs less as a story and more as a change for Karen to vent.  The venting is funny for a while, but like a Spielbergian war-time buddy movie, I wanted it to be over long before it was.
Scrambled Eggs
Playwright: Robin Amos Kahn & Gary Richards
Director: Matthew Penn
Cast: Amy Van Nostrand, Candace Brecker, Jim Frangione, Micheal Dean Morgan, Anne O’Sullivan, Mary Catherine Wright

Friday, April 26, 2013

Pippin is Joyous!

Pippin has burst onto Broadway as a traveling show of wonder – aflame for a moment only, but dazzling with flash and verve.  All the shinier for those who haven’t seen it before, or have a dim memory from the 1980 broadcast of it.  This Pippin is a feast of color, a flurry of feathered costumes and a marvel of daredevil tricks, but  underneath lies the story of a young man trying to make sense of his place in life.  Pippin is what James Franco's Wizard would have life be like if he could really do magic.  The tricks are obvious, the flare is false, but the emotions shown by Matthew James Thomas as Pippin are gut wrenching.
Patina Miller and Company (Erik Altemus on far right)

The story is basic, almost unimportant and yet quite a bit of fun.  Pippin is the heir apparent to King Charlemagne.  He is sent off to school before the show starts and we meet him upon his graduation.  Freshly educated, young Pippin wants to do Great Things with his life, but he isn’t sure what those Great Things are.  And so, he sets out to find his own greatness.
Pippin is supported, counseled and guided by the Leading Player, Patina Miller in a turn so different from Sister Act you wonder if the credits are somehow wrong.  Patina Miller inhabits the role first created by Ben Vereen, and they are large shoes to fill; but Ms. Miller does it all just as well and in heels.  She is as charming, beguiling and intriguing as the snake in Eden.  She moves with a liquid grace and can light up The Music Box with her eyes.  She is great.  Pippin, and the audience, is enthralled.
Pippin’s father and stepmother are played by veterans Terrence Mann and Charlotte d’Amboise.  Mr. Mann bellows lines with a wink and a grin that is appropriately imperious in nature.  Ms. d’Amboise schemes to put her son (lithe Erik Altemus in a lithe and hammy turn as the usurper) on the throne.  Ms. d’Amboise breaks out in wondrous dance, credited as “in the style of Bob Fosse”, for her number.  These two know how to work the stage and relate to the audience.  In Pippin, nearly all the players break the 4th wall, with the exception of our young hero who is earnestly trying to find answers.
Andrea Martin as Pippin's Grandmother schools Matthew James Thomas
When Andrea Martin arrives as Pippin’s grandmother, the 4th wall isn’t broken, but moved to the back of the theater.  Ms. Martin pulls the audience into the show in a way that is hilarious, fun and infectious.  If you haven't yet, you will fall in love with Andrea Martin.
Director Diana Paulus has amped up the background into Technicolor with the incorporation of the circus performers of Les 7 doigts de la main.  These gymnasts, aerialists and strongmen weave a constant and beguiling sideshow vibe throughout the show (and no, there are no clowns).  They pull Pippin into the temptation of the moment, of the glamorous and of the hyper-real.   It is effective on Pippin and entertaining to all.
Matthew James Thomas as Pippin and Rachel Bay Jones as Catherine in a quiet moment
Rachel Bay Jones plays Catherine, the widow that introduces Pippin to love and monotony – to the joy of a job well done and the disappointment that it must be well done again tomorrow.  Ms. Jones does a wonderful job with the role; she makes the mundane appealing.
The heart of the show is Matthew James Thomas as Pippin, and an astounding heart it is.  Mr. Thomas forever seems like a puppy who finds his footing at the last possible minute.  His joy in life is only matched by his frustration in not finding his Calling - with a Capital C. Even his voice sometimes wavers early, only to deliver power and purity as he gains momentum.
I fear overselling the show, because high expectations often lead to let downs.   I myself went in with no expectations.  And there are some problems with the show.  The music is a little simple in spots and the second half is, reasonably, slower.  But Pippin is joyous and you are guaranteed to walk out of The Music Box with a smile on your face.
Book: Roger O. Hirson, Music & Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
Director: Diane Paulus
Cast: Matthew James Thomas, Patina Miller, Terrence Mann, Charlotte d’Amboise, Rachel Bay Janes, Andrea Miller, Erik Altemus

Thursday, April 25, 2013

First Wave: Spoken Word and Hip Hop in Harlem

Christian Robinson, Cydney Edwards (par. obscured) Andrew Thomas, Janel Lee, Thiahera Nurse (sitting)
in the Langston Hughes Atrium
Five remarkably talented young people make up the touring group of First Wave - a university sponsored Spoken Word / Hip Hop group.    They are the representatives of the first major college program that promotes the art of Hip Hop and the Spoken Word with scholarship, mentoring and support.  And these kids are smart, if they drop below a 3.0 at school, they are not allowed to continue with the First Wave Group.
Christian Robinson & Janel Lee at the Apollo
I was lucky enough to see this group at an intimate venue before they took stage at the Apollo Theater.  They performed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in the Langston Hughes Atrium.  And their performance was enthralling.  It was a mix of poetry, song, movement and dramatic tension that took hold of your emotions and swept you along.
Later they took to the Apollo Stage for the full length version of the same piece.
Now that I have given you the basics, let me say that this program - the first of its kind, is from University of Wisconsin - Madison.  Having been to Madison, Wisconsin let me say it is not the first place I think of when I think urban spoken word.  It's not even in the top 25.  Hell, it's not the first place in Wisconsin I think of.  But something wonderful is happening on the (oft frozen) lakes of Mendota and Monona.
These five performers, who also wrote the piece, represented their program magnificently.  I listened to the various supporters, professors and fund raisers say that I would be impressed, and I waited - thinking they might have oversold the whole thing.  They did not.  Two of the pictures are pretty ragged, because I took them.  I had to, I was moved to celebrate these artists.
Following are two more pictures, the blurb from the school and then the artists' bios.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Irish Redemption In The Eyes of a Ugandan Child

Who’s Your Daddy? follows a  rich tradition of Irish storytelling in theater.  The storyteller in this case is Johnny O’Callagahan playing with the tradition in some interesting ways.
Johnny’s story concerns his last minute trip to Uganda with a friend, a trip taken more out of boredom than anything else.  His friend, a Hollywood acquaintance armed with little more than a camera, a dream of a documentary and an inflated sense of self-importance, was on a mission to an orphanage near the Congo / Rwanda border.  Johnny relates the trip, and the circumstances that prompted it, in humorous detail.
Johnny O'Callagahan in Who's Your Daddy at The Irish Repertory Theatre

Once there, Johnny was stunned by the conditions, but his story isn’t one of a sudden transformation into Florence Nightingale.  It is a refreshing tale of hope and a boy that brings a sense of wonder back to Johnny’s life.  And Johnny, like anyone who would decide on a whim to go to Africa instead of look for his lost dog, decides to adopt the boy – because, well it was the thing to do.
The process turns out to be much more complicated and extensive than Johnny expects.  And here is where the story delivers to it’s teller, a fork in the road.  Johnny is at the whims of various tribal elders in Uganda and government bureaucrats in the United States.  Johnny O’Callagahan’s journey through the labyrinth of laws and customs will require a determination and perseverance than he has never shown in the past.  It is full of false promises, dead ends and well meaning people deciding that a single man in Hollywood might not be the best guardian for a young Ugandan boy.  And Johnny has proven, so far, to be less than dedicated to a cause.
Who’s Your Daddy? is a great story, told with wit and energy that is not normally associated with the stereotypical Sad Irish Tale.  Mr. O’Callagahan forsakes the dark stage and single spot that normally comes with these stories as well, preferring a stage with various places to perch and lean and pace.  He (and Director Tom Ormeny) give physical immediacy to emotional rollercoaster this experience prompted.
It is a tale not to be missed.

Who’s Your Daddy?
Playwright: Johnny O’Callagahan
Director: Tom Ormeny
Cast: Johnny O’Callagahan

Friday, April 19, 2013

OWNED playing at TBG in Hells Kitchen

Don DiPaolo
New Play by Drama Desk Nominee Julian Sheppard Premieres
Previews begin April 26 at TBG Theatre

Knife Edge Productions will present the World Premiere of OWNED by Drama Desk Award nominee Julian Sheppard. Directed by Sam Helfrich, previews begin April 26 at TBG Theater. Opening night is slated for Thursday, May 2.

In OWNED, Ray and Ed are bartenders who know what they want. Morgan is a rich girl who wants everything. When Ray and Ed get a last shot at fulfilling their dreams, what could possibly go wrong?

The production stars Don DiPaolo, Susannah Hoffman and Neil Holland with a production team that includes Eric Southern (lighting), Blanca Añón (set), Nancy Leary (costumes), Daniel Spitaliere (sound design) and Chelsea Parrish (production stage manager).

OWNED runs April 26 - May 11, Monday & Wednesday - Saturday at 8pm with additional performances Saturday, May 4 at 6pm & 10pm (please note that there is no 8pm show that night) and Tuesday, May 7 at 8pm. TBG Theatre is located at 312 West 36th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenues -- accessible from the 1,2,3,C&E trains at 34th Street. Tickets are $18, available at 212-868-4444 or

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Big Knife: Time Hasn’t Dulled Its Edge

The Big Knife is the second Clifford Odets’ play to staged by the Roundabout Theater Company this year.  Someone at the Roundabout deserves a raise.  Having seen many of Odet’s works on the screen, I would not have expected the emotions that arise from these works.  On film, both Golden Boy and The Big Knife seem overly melodramatic and turgid; but on as staged by the Roundabout, they sing.  The Big Knife is a tight drama of a man who has achieved stardom at the cost of his freedom.  What would you do, and who would you indebt yourself to, in order to reach your goals.
Chip Zien, Bobby Cannavale, Richard King and Reg Rogers in The Big Knife
Bobby Cannavale plays Charlie Castle, film star who is stuck in unfulfilling, but commercially successful, roles.  Set in the waning days of the studio system, Charlie Castle is locked into a deal with Studio Boss Marcus Hoff, a dazzling turn by Richard Kind.  Charlie Castle is being pressured by the studio and his agent to sign another long term, exclusive contract, and he is being pressured by his estranged wife to quit the movie industry.
Marin Ireland & Bobby Cannavale
Charlie has less leverage than a star would normally have, because the studio is covering up a criminal matter for him (minor spoiler).  At the same time the studio is turning the screws on Charlie, his wife is promising reconciliation if they get back together and a previous indiscretion is threating to go to the press.  Charlie is stretched thin.
Mr. Cannavale does a wonderful job playing a man who has everything, but is in control of nothing.  He even laughs at the predicament of a movie hero, who can’t escape his own contract.  Marin Ireland, as his wife, is a perfect counterweight for Charlie Castle.  She is resolved to leave Charlie and this life behind.  But the love and connection between them breaks down her best intentions when they are together.  Ms. Ireland plays the role well, being almost as tough as she needs to be.  Mrs. Castle is a great partner, and Ms. Ireland is remarkable in the role, bring her to life in a realistic manner.
The wonderful Reg Rogers plays the studio boss’ sidekick, with a eye towards making the fewest waves possible.
It is the interaction of Mr. Cannavale and Mr. Kind that electrifies The Big Knife.  Both are playing against type, Mr. Kind as a rough edged type A asshole and Mr. Cannavale more impotent than we ever see him. The stage sizzles when they share it.
Director Doug Hughes lets The Big Knife show its age, there is no attempt to bring it into the moment because its message is still relevant.  Mr. Odets’ words and phrasing are integral to the proceedings, and Mr. Hughes manages his cast well in inhabiting this world.  The sets by John Lee Beatty and costumes by Catherine Zuber are gorgeous, contributing to the totality of the experience.  I highly recommend it.

The Big Knife
Playwright: Clifford Odets
Director: Doug Hughes
Cast: Rachel Brosnahan, Bobby Cannavale, Marin Ireland, Billy Eugene Jones, Richard Kind, Ana Reeder, Reg Rogers, Joey Slotnick, Brenda Wehle, C.J. Wilson, Chip Zien