Bitter sweet

You may be too young to remember when this play by Shelagh Delaney was made into a film of the same name,”A Taste Of Honey” by Tony Richardson. Honestly, what I do recall about the movie I saw so many years ago is very sketchy.

 A Taste Of Honey, extended to October 30th at The Pearl, confirmed some of my memories, and expanded on them in a very satisfying way.

Mother love

A girl, Jo (Rebekah Brockman) meets a sailor, Jimmy (Ade Otukaya). When her mother, Helen (Rachel Botchan) abandons her once again at Christmas time– this time to run off and marry Peter Smith (Bradford Cover)–, Jo takes up with her boyfriend in their apartment. Jimmy goes back to sea leaving a pregnant Jo to fend for herself. She is joined int the flat by an art student, Geoffrey (John Evans Reese), who is warm, nurturing and accepting. I recalled the sweetness of her relationship with Geoff, and the bourgeois life these two shared.

A precocious talent

A Taste Of Honey, written when Delaney was just 18, premiered in the West End in 1958 and had a run on Broadway. The Pearl’s is the first New York production in 35 years.

Richardson’s cine-adaptation (with Delaney collaborating on the script) did not prepare me for the avant-garde in Delaney’s stage play. She was a poet of the working-class, though her subsequent work never had as much fame as her first work.

Music Hall or barroom

A Taste Of Honey features on stage band, performing tunes from the Music Hall and Jazz repertoires. The accomplished trio here, all hep young musicians, under Phil Faconti’s (guitar) baton, include Max Boiko on trumpet and Walter Ashford Stinson on bass.

A Taste Of Honey, directed by Austin Pendleton, is a touch slow of pace. The ensemble are all terrific, although Rebekah Brockman lets Jo seem a bit too down-at-the mouth. Her character, Jo has remarkable strength, and some of that shows through in her interactions with Geoff. Botchan’s selfish mama is a whirlwind, and Brad Cover’s charasmatically non-chalant Peter is a breath of fresh air.

Harry Feiner’s perfectly messy stage set and Barbara A. Bell’s neat costumes allow A Taste Of Honey to make an expansive statement in its hsitoric context.

Visit pearltheatre.org to learn more.

Happy New Year

Black Moon Theatre presents Bliss based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead September 8-25, 2016 Photo by Steven Pisano
Black Moon Theatre presents Bliss based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead
September 8-25, 2016
Photo by Steven Pisano

The moment between December 31st and January 1st so widely celebrated, and especially so at the hub on Broadway’s Times Square, is not the real new year.

Every summer-tired kid can tell you that the new year starts in September when school opens. Theater nerds will likewise say that this is the beginning of the year. Broadway will have two openings on the 20th with The Encounter at the Golden and The Front Page at the Broadhurst. Manhattan Theatre Company also starts previews for Heisenberg, a Broadway transfer to the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on the 20th. Holiday Inn started previews at Roundabout’s Studio 54 on September 1st, while their The Cherry Orchard previewed on the 15th at The American Airlines.

Off-Broadway has already been perky this season. Playwrigths Horizons opened its first show of the season, Julia Cho’s Aubergine. The Mint has  A Day By The Seaplaying since July 22nd and through October 23rd. The Pearl’s A Taste Of Honey began previews on September 6th and has already extended the run through October 30th. Starting on September 29th, it will be running in repertory with David Harrower’s adaptation of Ibsen’s Public Enemy.

Further off the great white way, there is also a good deal of action, too. The list is too long to include every production, but we’ll sample a few here:

Black Moon Theatre Company presents Bliss based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead with performances on September 8-25, 2016, at The Flea Theater.
Core Creative Productions presents an updated version of ariveting and award-winning drama about police brutality called Chokehold at the 14th Street Y Theater from September 16th through October 8th.
Playwrights Realm started their 2016-17 season on August 29th with the world premiere of The Wolves by Sarah Delappe, and will also present a collab with (and at) the New York Theatre Workshop when it shows Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners & Her Portmanteau later in the Spring.
Meanwhile, currently playing at the New York Theatre Workshop is Nathan Alan Davis’ provocative new play Nat Turner in Jerusalem.
A musical with illusions promises to be a happy ride when On The Rails opens on September 29th, at The Actor’s Temple where it will continue through November 20th.
On The Rails is part of the Lady Liberty Theater Festival, as is Missed Connections, playing sporadically (aka check the scheds) from September 27th through the end of November at the Kraine.
A cinematic and live dance/theater work combines in Geoff Sobelle’s Pandaemonium, directed by Lars Jan with music composed and performed by Brooklyn musician Xander Duell looks to be a unique experience at New York Live Arts from September 28th through October 1st.
The no-holds barred comedy about race and American history, Underground Railroad Game began previews at Ars Nova on September 13th for an opening on September 26th and running through October 15th
Followung up on the introduction they made in 2014New Light Theater Project  is featuring playwright Ross Howard, a Brit indie sensation, in rep from October 19th through November 12th at the Access Theater.
In other festival news, the Flea is presenting a pair of A.R. Gurneys, Squash and Ajax, beginning October 10th.
EDWIN, The Story of Edwin Booth is at Theatre at St. Clement’s through September 18th, so hurry. The musical is about the most famous American actor of the nineteenth century, and, famously, brother to Abraham Lincoln”s assassin.
This list could go on and on, but you don’t want to hear that. Check out Soho Rep, and MCC, for example, and the Ensemble Studio Theatre.The Vineyard Theatre deserves a visit, too, especially for their kid-friendly productions. Lincoln Center’s The Claire Tow Theater deserves a visit if for nothing but its view, but its productions have been spectacular, too. Downtown, there’s also the Classic Stage Company, the Public, and for Off-Broadway in the heart of Broadway, the Signature Theatre Company and the resident New Group. Just to name a few theatrical companies waiting to entertain you.

Food and memory: Omikase

Aubergine August 20, 2016 – October 02, 2016 Mainstage Theater Written by Julia Cho Directed by Kate Whoriskey New York Premiere A man shares a bowl of berries, and a young woman falls in love. A world away, a mother prepares a bowl of soup to keep her son from leaving home. And a son cooks a meal for his dying father to say everything that words can’t. In Julia Cho’s poignant and lyrical new play, the making of a perfect meal is an expression more precise than language, and the medium through which life gradually reveals itself. FEATURING Tim Kang Sue Jean Kim Jessica Love Stephen Park Michael Potts Joseph Steven Yang Scenic Design: Derek McLane Costume Design: Jennifer Moeller Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski Sound Design: M.L. Dogg Production Stage Manager: Cole P. Bonenberger
Aubergine, New York Premiere, August 20, 2016 – October 02, 2016, Written by Julia Cho, Directed by Kate Whoriskey, Scenic Design: Derek McLane, Costume Design: Jennifer Moeller Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski Tim Kang and Michael Potts. Photo © Joan Marcus

Aubergine is a plummy color. It is also a French vegetable, less grandly called eggplant in English.

Aubergine is also a play by Julia Cho, whose Language Archive delivered a smartly tart look at the interstices in communication. Aubergine, at Playwrights Horizons through October 2nd, (like Language Archive ) intertwines multiple and parallel experiences.

Familiar ties

A chef, Ray (Tim Kang), tries to reconnect with his father (Stephen Park) by preparing him a memorable last meal, with ingredients suggested by his Uncle (Joseph Steven Yang). A young woman, Diane (Jessica Love) recalls sharing a pastrami sandwich with her father just before he died.

Mulberries

Aubergine Pictured Tim Kang with Sue Jean Kim. Photo © Joan Marcus
Aubergine
Pictured Tim Kang with
Sue Jean Kim. Photo © Joan Marcus

Ray’s girlfriend, Cornelia (Sue Jean Kim) remembers her mother relentlessly feeding her so that she began to hate eating.

Meanwhile, a caregiver named Lucien (Michael Potts), speaks with fondness of the vegetables in his memories. Lucien is a shaman, guiding Ray as he sits by his father’s deathbed.

Trust the chef

Death is ever-present in Cho’s drama, even as food is cooked, eaten and immortalized.

Hunger is one of the themes; family another in Julia Cho’s sometimes engaging, oft-times off-putting story.

Going home

Aubergine
Aubergine
Pictured Sue Jean Kim, Joseph Steven Yang, Stephen Park, and Tim Kang. Photo © Joan Marcus

One should never underestimate the eggplant. Like Cho’s main character, Ray, it has a harshly bitter rind, and a center that is well-textured and soft. Cho may have bit off more than she can chew in the meandering Aubergine.

Courtesy of Ray’s Uncle, parts–even swaths– of the story is told in Korean with English supertitles.

Kate Whoriskey plies a light hand directing this material; the assembled cast is both polished and charming.

To learn more about Aubergine, please visit PH’s website.

 

 

The overlooked contender or 2

It looks like Waitress has all the pluck of the indie project from which it was created. Like Something Rotten!, it carries on.

As if the presence of star Jessie Mueller and a lovely cast were not enough, Waitress is offering a little sweetner: groups as few as 4 (and up to 11) people can get discounted tickets- with pie- to attend.

Our Theater Blog: TandBOnTheAisle

In my predictions for the nominations Tony is about to make, http://wp.me/p5jq0w-OI, I left out some of this year’s Broadway starts. School of Rockwas not mentioned, and truly, despite its spunk, I doubt it stands a chance in this contest. Nor will American Psycho overturn Hamilton in its run to the top.


May 3rd, noon, Looks like the Tonys left out a contender, too: Audra McDonald was not nominated for the Best leading actress in a musical.

Here’s where the oversight is more serious: From the list (entitled The Chanteuse) below, I have left out Laura Benanti, a soprano to be contended with, often on the short list for many an Award, and Tony winner (for “Gypsy”). Benanti stars beautifully in a wondrous revival of She Loves Me, the musical descendent of a personal favorite among Magyar tales–Little Shop Around the Corner. (In view…

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Closing soon–or still playing– at a theatre near you

Ana Villafañe and the cast of On Your Feet! --one of few still standing even after a poor Tony showing.(c) Matthew Murphy
Ana Villafañe and the cast of On Your Feet! –one of few still standing even after a poor Tony showing.(c) Matthew Murphy

Among the end of summer rituals is the revving up of the theater season. New plays will open at the subscription houses, Broadway will host revivals and original productions; the fall will be the time to re-start.

Just as the fall brings new plays to our attention, so the summer sees old ones run their course. Here’s a list of what you need to catch up on before school starts:

Finding Neverland fits one of my favorite themes. It is another example of a musical undaunted by Tony denial. The production wasn’t even nominated and they survived well over a year! That is about to come to an end, and soon, when the show closes at the Lunt-Fontaine on Sunday, August 21st. It sets off for a national tour, beginning October 11th inm Buffalo.

Also nearing the end of its Broadway tenancy is the highly original and charming Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which shuts its light effects at the Ethel Barrymore on September 4th.

That day, the 4th of September, will also be the last performance of the Les Miz production currently at the Imperial Theatre. The epic Les Miserables will be missed, but we know we’ll raise a glass to its return.

Fun Home will depart Circle in the Square after its final performance on September 10th.

Meanwhile, Cats has slinked into the Neil Simon, opening for a limited run through January 15th. Jogs the “Memory,” when some 40 years ago, I sat on the stage of the Winter Garden to watch T.S. Eliot’s poetry turned to motion in the original Broadway production.

The ever bouyant and dramatic Phantom, another Andrew Lloyd Webber invention, continues to startle in its long-term home at the Majestic.

Among the more resilient musicals around is still Something Rotten!, which tall-tells the history of all musicals nightly (and twice on Wednesday and Saturdays) at the St. James.The musical, which was also light on TONY recognition in 2015 when it opened, is holding ticket lotteries even as we write.

Sort of like Hamilton, but… tix for the Perfect $10 are still a lot harder to score.

 

It’s critical

You don’t have to go very far afield to find someone who disagrees with your assessments. Such disagreements, like charity, often begins at home.


By Edwin S. Porter (YouTube) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is the critic’s dilemma: if you cannot get those nearest and dearest to you to buy your point of view, how will you convince the larger public to accept your criticism. How do strangers feel about what you have to say? Can they trust your guidance? Will they?

Entertainment merits a very personal response. Let’s face it, there are many human beings involved in the giving and the getting.

The author creates characters, who, as anyone who has written knows, sometimes take off with their own stories. The actors, with the counsel of the director,  people the plotlines and add spice and dimension. There are many other hands involved, designers of sets and lighting, sometimes musicians, and the helpful stage managers, in making a play the thing worthy of our time and attention.

The critic is the least of the equation. And like any audience, he/she is not passive. No one in theater seats is a blank slate, absorbing what the playwright, the actors, the designers, the director have put before them. You, and I, may react to something viscerally, or you may reject it outright. On a different day, and wearing a different outfit, I might respond differently to what I see.  My interpretations are personal and individual, and subjective.

TONY (W)rap

This TONY lament can also be seen at The Wright Wreport on VevlynsPen.com

Our Theater Blog: TandBOnTheAisle

I was wrong
Hamilton came on strong

Not seven
But eleven

Statuettes for lighting,
Orchestrations, and fighting

Cast and Lin
All win

Hamilton‘s got a token
Record’s still unbroken

Hamilton– 16 nods, 11 wins– trails
The Producers– winning 12– prevails

Their twelve wins no one’s topped
Even with just 11, Ham can’t be stopped

Try and get a ticket to see it, now– no!
That’s okay, it’ll still be there when you do go


It’s an annual ritual at VevlynsPen.com to have me flail around guessing who the winner will be on TONY’s big night. I am often wrong, and occassionally right. Congratulations, for instance, to Roundabout’s She Loves Me for a best for sets designed by David Rockwell.

But the business of TONY is a double-edged sword. The awards celebration attracts audiences– Hamilton, we might point out, did not need the boost– andthose not getting an award…

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“Stop in the name of love” and “Get ready”

Motown The Musical MUSICAL NEDERLANDER THEATRE 208 W. 41ST ST. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL - CAST Chester Gregory Chester Gregory as Berry Gordy Allison Semmes Allison Semmes as Diana Ross Jesse Nager Jesse Nager as Smokey Robinson Jarran Muse Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye Nik Alexander Nik Alexander as Dennis Edwards Nik Alexander Nik Alexander as Miracle Nik Alexander Nik Alexander as Mickey Stevenson Nik Alexander Nik Alexander as Commodore J.J. Batteast J.J. Batteast as Young Berry Gordy J.J. Batteast J.J. Batteast as Young Stevie Wonder J.J. Batteast J.J. Batteast as Young Michael Jackson Erick Buckley Erick Buckley as Jackie Wilson Manager Erick Buckley Erick Buckley as Harold Noveck Erick Buckley Erick Buckley as Studio Head Chante Carmel Chante Carmel as Edna Anderson Chante Carmel Chante Carmel as Martha Reeves Chante Carmel Chante Carmel as Marvelette Chadaé Chadaé as Anna Gordy Chadaé Chadaé as Marvelette Lynorris Evans Lynorris Evans as Temptation Lynorris Evans Lynorris Evans as Fuller Gordy Lynorris Evans Lynorris Evans as Contour Lynorris Evans Lynorris Evans as Jackson 5 Robert Hartwell Robert Hartwell as Temptation Robert Hartwell Robert Hartwell as Contour Robert Hartwell Robert Hartwell as Jackson 5 Robert Hartwell Robert Hartwell as Robert Gordy Trisha Jeffrey Trisha Jeffrey as Mary Wilson Trisha Jeffrey Trisha Jeffrey as Mother Gordy Elijah Ahmad Lewis Elijah Ahmad Lewis as Stevie Wonder Elijah Ahmad Lewis Elijah Ahmad Lewis as Levi Stubbs Elijah Ahmad Lewis Elijah Ahmad Lewis as Miracle Elijah Ahmad Lewis Elijah Ahmad Lewis as Jr. Walker Elijah Ahmad Lewis Elijah Ahmad Lewis as Allstar Loren Lott Loren Lott as Esther Gordy Loren Lott Loren Lott as Lula Hardaway Loren Lott Loren Lott as Vandella Loren Lott Loren Lott as Gladys Horton Jarvis B. Manning, Jr. Jarvis B. Manning, Jr. as Jackie Wilson Jarvis B. Manning, Jr. Jarvis B. Manning, Jr. as Contour Jarvis B. Manning, Jr. Jarvis B. Manning, Jr. as Eddie Hollan
Motown The Musical at the Nederlander with Allison Semmes as Diana Ross. Photo © Joan Marcus

Berry Gordy, Jr.’s career in music started when he sold a song to Jackie Wilson. It culminated when he sold the hit-making empire he built and named Motown to MCA in 1988. Motown artists and their images were carefully cultivated. Gordy co-wrote 240 songs for the catalog, which was bought by Polygram for over $330million in the early 1990s. Business aside, Gordy’s recording company became a legendary musical genre.

That musical style, the artists nurtured by the company, and its creator are celebrated in Motown-The Musical, based on Gordy’s memoir, To Be Loved, and written and produced by Berry Gordy, Jr.

Motown… had its original run in March of 2013, and is currently in revival at the Nederlander Theatre, and runnng through the end of this month.

Motown The Musical with Chester Gregory as Berry Gordy. Photo © Joan Marcus
Motown The Musical with
Chester Gregory
as Berry Gordy. Photo © Joan Marcus

In Motown…, the high-spirited portrayals of Gordy by Chester Gregory and the supreme Diana Ross by Allison Semmes enhance the bio-musical’s plotline, which relies a little too heavily on history for its backstory. Motown… is about the entertainers who gave us the  most recognizable sound of the 1960’s.

Mr. Gregory gives a well-balanced performance as “the Chairman,” Berry Gordy, Jr. An exhilirating highlight of the production is Ms. Semmes’ Ross in her first solo appearance in Las Vegas, a sequence that asks for a happy moment of audience participation.

Visit http://www.motownthemusical.com/ for tickets and more information.

 

"Dancing In The Streets" at Motown The Musical: It’s Not Just Berry Gordy’s Memories

Motown The Musical is being revived this summer at the Nederlander Theatre, in previews now and running through November 13th.

Our Theater Blog: TandBOnTheAisle

There was a time when Detroit rolled out great big cars, and an even bigger sound. The music of the Motor City was humming in everyone’s ears, and playing “with a brand new beat” on and off the Billboard charts.

Berry Gordy’s memoirs turned into “Motown The Musical,” now at the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre,  based on Gordy’s book To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown, are condensed to bring us up to the 25th Motown Reunion in 1983.  His Hitsville USA studios brought an exciting new formula to
pop music. Motown records was modeled after the assembly lines of Detroit automobile factories where Gordy had worked.

Berry Gordy, Jr.’s (Brandon Victor Dixon) glam vision added lavish costumes and complicated dance moves to the “short stories,” as he put, in the songs his writers created. Gordy gave each of his groups their own persona– “The Temptations,” “The…

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Talking turkey

First, Karam’s The Humans transferred from off-Broadway to Broadway, where it won the 2016 Tony as Best Play. Now, it is transferring to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. The original review from December 2015 of the play when it first appeared at the Laura Pels is below:


Does it seem like dysfunctional is the new normal?

Stephen Karam’s The Humans, playing at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre through January 3rd, might have better been named Family Festivities, or At Home with Brigid and Rich –(two possible and still lame alternatives) –as it is, it is still more than worthy of our attention.

The people gathering at Brigid Blake’s (Sarah Steele) new duplex apartment in a Chinatown basement are there to celebrate Thanksgiving. Her live-in boyfriend, Richard Saad (Arian Moayed). who is doing the cooking, is contentedly overwhelmed by her clan and their rituals. As a backdrop to the goings-on, Grandma “Momo” (Lauren Klein) mutters dementedly and somewhat angrily throughout dinner.

To call the Blakes dysfunctional is perhaps overstating the case, although Brigid’s dad, Erik (Reed Birney) might be harboring a wretched secret, while her sister Aimee (Cassie Beck) is mourning a breakup from a bad relationship. Their mother, Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell) foists religion–not so good-naturedly– on her children. It’s easy to relate to Karam’s family drama with its sense of familiarity.

Although I find that The Humans is an off-putting name for a play, at least for this play, this is just a quibble. The Humans is engaging and well-written.

Joe Mantello gives the afternoon, and its aftermath, in The Humans a leisurely naturalistic pace. David Zinn’s two-tier staging makes The Humans feel both expansive and claustrophobic in its confinement.

The production is “Broadway-esque” and Broadway-worthy, and headed for the “great white way” in 2016.

The ensemble are luminous, with Houdyshell, Steele, and Birney stand-outs in an outstanding cast.

To find out more about The Humans,  please visit The Roundabout website.