Posted in based on a true story or event, bio-musical, evangelist, Kathie Lee Gifford, musical theater, radio sermons, scandal

Shocking and "Scandalous"

There have always been determined women who’ve succeeded in a male-dominated world.

“It’s not man’s world, it’s God’s,” Aimee Semple McPherson (Carolee Carmello) tells Louella Parsons (Elizabeth Ward Land) in “Scandalous,” the new musical enjoying an open run at the Neil Simon Theatre.

Kenneth Ormiston (Andrew Samonsky) and Aimee Semple McPherson  (Carolee Carmello) in a photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The woman at the center of Kathie Lee Gifford’s (book, lyrics) “Scandalous” was a controversial celebrity evangelist. In 1927, Aimee Semple McPherson became embroiled in a morals trial.

Was she targetted because her large house of worship dominated Los Angeles and competed with the established church of Brother Bob (George Hearn)? Was it that she broadcasted sermons coast to coast that drew fire? Was she signalled out because she was a driven woman? Did she shock convention? The answer in “Scandalous” is all of the above.

Aimee Semple McPherson  (Carolee Carmello) and Borther Bob (George Hearn) in a photo by Jeremy Daniel.

A Holy Roller’s biography in music (by David Pomeranz and David Friedman  and additional music and lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford) and song should have some exuberant singing. The music in “Scandalous” is muted as if intentionally tamping down the “joyful noises” of a Pentecostal service. Unexpectedly, the fiercest and most rousing number in “Scandalous” is one in which  Aimee challenges God, “How Could You?”

The company with Carolee Carmello. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.


“Scandalous” is a lavish, if somewhat uninspired, musical play. The costumes by Gregory A. Paplyk are simply gorgeous. The Ensemble is hard working and well directed (David Armstorng directs, choreography by Lorin Latarro.)  Among the large cast, Edward Watts (in a dual role as Robert Semple and David Hutton, two of Aimee’s husbands, George Hearn (also in two roles as Aimee’s father and Brother Bob), and Roz Ryan as a madam, Emma Jo Schaeffer, who becomes Aimee’s assistant in the church, all stand out..

Aimee Semple McPherson welcomed the attention of the press and the public. She sought it out. Her hubris brought on her downfall. Or, as it happens, more like a stumble. The scandal in “Scandalous” did not shut her or her Angelus Temple down.

For more information about “Scandalous,” please visit http://scandalousonbroadway.com/ 

Posted in based on a true story or event, Byron Jennings, Moishe Bretzky, Nathan Englander, Noah Robbins, Pinchas Pelovits, Ron Rifkin, Stalin, The Night of the Murdered Poets, Vasily Korinsky, Yevgeny Zunser

Dreamers and thinkers: Ideas that Threaten

Dreamers and thinkers are a threat to tyranny.

Nathan Englander’s “The Twenty-Seventh Man,” at The Public Theater extended through December 16th,  examines Stalin’s extreme reaction to that threat.

Stalin had encouraged Yiddishists in every arena, supporting the Moscow State Jewish Theater, Yiddish newspapers and schools. In 1952, his paranoia seems to have gotten the better of him. He began rounding up Jewish intellectuals for execution.

In  “The Twenty-Seventh Man,” Pinchas Pelovits (Noah Robbins), the titular final prisoner, is mystified at being brought in to share a cell with literary luminaries. His cellmates are all prominent writers. Pinchas is unsung and never published.

Vasily Korinsky (Chip Zien), Guard (Happy Anderson), Pinchas Pelovits (Noah Robbins), Moishe Bretzky (Daniel Oreskes) and Yevgeny Zunser (Ron Rifkin). Photo by Joan Marcus 

Yet, upon being dropped in the cell, the only thing Pinchas asks for is pen and paper. Vasily Korinsky (Chip Zien), one of the famous authors with whom he is incarcerated, suggests it would be more sensible to ask for his freedom. Pinchas points out that if your jailer were to free you, he would no longer be your jailer. As played by Robbins, Pinchas is an innocent savant.

Yevgeny Zunser (Ron Rifkin) and Pinchas Pelovits (Noah Robbins). Photo by Joan Marcus 

The mild-mannered  Yevgeny Zunser (Ron Rifkin) is amused by Pinchas’s youth and Talmudic reasoning. Unlike Korinsky, who is convinced that his arrest is a mistake, Zunser is resigned to his plight.

The dream cast in “The Twenty-Seventh Man” includes the amazing Byron Jennings, as the Agent in Charge. When Korinsky tells him he is innocent, the Agent asks if that means the others are not, and asks him to confirm it in writing. “Sign it,” he urges, “so I will believe it.”

The Agent in Charge (Byron Jennings) with Vasily Korinsky (Chip Zien). Photo by Joan Marcus 

There is an intensity that is wrought by the carefully-placed language and the precision in the tone of “The Twenty-Seventh Man.” As befits a drama about writers and thinkers, “The Twenty-Seventh Man,”
weaves a spell of words. The stylized text evokes a feeling that can only be described as Russian.

For more information about “The Twenty-Seventh Man,” please visit www.publictheater.org.

Posted in A Christmas Story, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, from a 1983 film, from a cult classic, holiday fare, musical, musical comedy

Make a wish: A Christmas Story…

‘Tis the season for wishing and presents. 

Here’s a wish for you: gift yourself “A Christmas Story: The Musical” before it ends its season at  The Lunt-Fontaine Theatre on December 30th.
In  “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” Jean Shepherd (Dan Lauria) narrates a memory from childhood in which Ralphie (Johnny Rabe) is so desperate to get a “Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun” that his 
pleas tie his tongue.
Photo by Carol Rosegg. Johnny Rabe as Ralphie, Zac Ballard as his brother Randy and Erin Dilly as their mother.

 
His Mother (Erin Dilly) laughs off his Christmas wish with a “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out,” a sentiment that is reprised in the taunt his teacher Miss Shields (Caroline O’Connor) delivers in one of Ralphie’s many reveries.
In that same Fantasy scene, the youngest little scene-stealer in tapshoes, Luke Spring (age 9) out taps  his elders, including the wonderful Caroline O’Connor. In fact, the prodigious talent on stage in “A Christmas Story: The Musical” comes in all sizes and ages. And Warren Carlyle’s brilliant choreography adds sparkle at every turn to “A Christmas Story: The Musical.”

Luke Spring and Caroline O’Connor in a scene called “Fantasy 1930s Speakeasy.” Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Ralphie’s father, The Old Man (John Bolton), cursing a gibberish-load, harbors a wish of his own. His “Major Award” from a crossword contest inspires one of the most memorable of many terrific dance sequences in “A Christmas Story: The Musical.”


The Old Man (John Bolton) with his “Major Award.” Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Newcomers  Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics) with Joseph Robinette (book) retooled the 1983 film “A Christmas Story” by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark and Shepherd’s book “In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash” to give Broadway this generous holiday gift.
Dan Lauria as Jean Shepherd in a photo by Carol Rosegg.

The music in “A Christmas Story: The Musical” is varied and interesting with, just for example a lovely “What a Mother Does” (sung by the lovely Erin Dilly) balanced by the rousing ensemble piece “Ralphie To The Rescue.”

Johnny Rabe as Ralphie. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
In a superb cast, each with their own moments in which to shine, John Bolton is the topper on the tree. He is a very funny and gifted man. 
Kristen, the kindergartner in the next seat, enjoyed “A Christmas Story: The Musical” as did her dad. “A Christmas Story: The Musical” has more grit and glory than the usual children’s play. Adults and tykes alike will have a rollicking good time.
For more information about “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” please visit http://achristmasstorythemusical.com/.

Posted in bio-musical, Dusty Springfield, life in music, musical theater, pop-star

Singing R&B, with "Forever Dusty"

“Stay Forever,” was an earlier iteration of the musical play, “Forever Dusty” by Kirsten Holly Smith and Jonathan Vankin

We seem to label the pop-stars of the past as icons. And, if a pop-singer still has name-recognition, and a memorable hit or two or three, maybe we’re right to do so.
Dusty Springfield was a name to be reckoned with, had many a well-known chart-topping song in her day, and a forty-year career. All of which adds up to icon status, and “Forever Dusty,” at New World Stages Stage 5 through January 6th, is a loving tribute to her. (Congratulations–EXTENDED to March 3, 2013!)
Kirsten Holly Smith and Jonathan Vankin have created a well-written and engrossing bio-musical from the inherent drama of Dusty Springfield’s life story. The script takes liberties with the life, but is dedicated to its subject.
Dusty (Kirsten Holly Smith) emerged as the alter-ego of a shy Irish schoolgirl named Mary O’Brien. The drama of “Forever Dusty” is in Dusty’s complex and closeted life.  
 Kirsten Holly Smith as Dusty Springfield. Photo by Thom Kaine.
Her ambition to make music with a Motown sound drove her to fame as a cross-over artist. The timid middle-class white girl from the England took on a flashy mod persona that resonated all over the world. She sang soul-inflected song after song, dressed in shiny high white boots and spangled dresses. The costumes, designed by Nancy A. Palmetier, by the way, are many and fabulous.
At the height of her career in the 1960s, there were potentially career-ending whispers that she was a lesbian, buried under tabloid rumors of involvement with Jagger or McCartney. Her private life was fuelled by alcohol and drugs. After several stints in rehab, her sobriety reignited her career and in the late 1980s. 
Kirsten Holly Smith as Dusty Springfield in “Forever Dusty.” Photo by Joan Marcus.
Kirsten Holly Smith has strong support from her cast, including Sean Patrick Hopkins as Dusty’s brother, Tom Springfield, Benim Foster as a record producer and a journalist, and Coleen Sexton in dual roles as Becky and Gini. Christina Sajous [recently as Arachne in “Spider-Man”and Shirley in “Baby It’s You”

is lovely as a back-up singer and superb as the gentle Claire.

The excellent on-stage band add an intimate night club feel. In “Forever Dusty,” the discography gets plenty of stagetime; it is reprised in concert  or studio-recording  reenactments. “You Don’t Have to Stay Forever,”  a song that exemplifies Dusty Springfield’s work, brought the house down!

For more information about “Forever Dusty,” please visit www.foreverdusty.com

Posted in drama, empowerment, feminism, girls, growing up, self-actualization, song and dance, The Vagina Monologues, young cast

Empowering The Young: "Emotional Creature"

We’re a long way from “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” 

Eve Ensler’s “Emotional Creature,” in an outside production imported from California’s Berkeley Repertory Theatre to The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center, through January 13th, details the atrocities that so often rob girls of their childhood.
Molly Carden  in “Emotional Creature” by Eve Ensler. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
All over the globe, they are deprived of their girlhood by being abducted, beaten into prostitution, forced into factory labor, raped, denied an education. But it’s not just crimes, like genital mutilation, that keep girls from enjoying their youth. There is also peer pressure to be skinny, to be straight, to be popular, to be pretty that add hardship to the confusion that is part of growing up.  
Ashley Bryant in “Emotional Creature” by Eve Ensler. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
This panoply of obstacles to self-actualization is rendered in monologue, and in song and dance, in “Emotional Creature” by an enthusiastic cast of young women.
Joaquina Kalukango in “Emotional Creature” by Eve Ensler. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

In her title, Ensler has co-opted the notion that conflates being female with having an excess of feeling, the diagnosis of which was once simply called hysteria. Unfortunately, even though Ensler’s earnest feminism is never in doubt, the passion in “Emotional Creature” feels like politically correct lip-service. The world-wide success of her earlier play,“The Vagina Monologues,” led to the creation of V-Girls, as a platform to empower the young  as Ensler’s foundation, V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against women had empowered a generation of adult women.
Olivia Oguma in “Emotional Creature” by Eve Ensler. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Subtitled “the secret life of girls around the world,” “Emotional Creature” is just too ambitious in its scope. There is too much going on– some of it funny, some of it heartwrenching, some of it inconsequential — unless perhaps you are that teenage girl trying to fit in.  What we don’t get is to feel fully engaged with “Emotional Creature.” 

These girls stories are for the most part too dire to trivialize, but “Emotional Creature,” in aiming alll over the world glosses over and simplifies a world of troubles. In fact, some of the lighter and funnier moments are the best part of “Emotional Creature.”  Those include the cast in a chat room worrying over what not to eat. Ashley Bryant taking and critiquing pictures for her Facebook page and Sade Namei missing her pre-nose job face make for amusing insights into the secret lives of girls.

The cast also includes  Emily Grosland, Joaquina Kalukango, Molly Carden, and  Olivia Oguma. Running time is just under 90 minutes.
For more information please visit http://emotionalcreature.com
Posted in comedy, romantic comedy, The Marriage of Figaro

"Figaro" Gets Married

Smart and funny always makes for a good time.

“Figaro,” at the Pearl Theatre extended through December 2nd,   is the very smart and very funny marriage of Beaumarchais and playwright Charles Morey. Witty and well-paced, “Figaro” is full of all the complications created by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais in his 1778 play, “Le mariage de Figaro” and some ultra-modern solutions offered by Morey.

Photo by Jack J. Goldberg. Figaro (Sean McNall) shaves Count Almaviva (Chris Mixon) in The Pearl’s “Figaro” 

There are many obstacles in the way before Figaro (Sean McNall) and Suzanne (Jolly Abraham) can get married. Their employer and patron who must sign the marriage banns, Count Almaviva (Chris Mixon),  is a randy fellow who has made Suzanne a project of his affections.

Photo by Jack J. Goldberg. Marcelline (Robin Leslie Brown), Dr. Bartholo (Dan Daily), The Count (Chris Mixon), The Countess (Joey Parsons), and Figaro (Sean McNall) in The Pearl’s “Figaro” 

Figaro is both hero and narrator, engaging the audience as he explains his backstory. He makes allusions to his stint as “The Barber of Seville” as well as to Mozart’s version of “The Marriage of Figaro.”   His political and social commentary has a very contemporary feel.

“Figaro” features stock characters that are not stick figures but beautifully fleshed out. Broad and charming comedy is the calling card of this entertaining production. Expertly directed by Hal Brooks, the actors do an excellent job. Sean McNall is so comfortable as Figaro that he makes us all feel at home. He has what can only be called an iridescent charm. Jolly Abraham is a fetching Suzanne, aided by the clever Countess (Joey Parsons) in making the little subplots unravel hilariously. Chris Mixon’s comic timing is superb; he is at once cadgy and clueless.

For more informaton or tickets for “Figaro,”    visit www.pearltheatre.org

Posted in 2-hander, acrobatic, athletic, erotic, Gary Henderson, love story, The Magpies

When Love Is Enough: Gary Henderson’s "Skin Tight"

Peter Saide as Tom and Sarah-Jane Casey as Elizabeth in “Skin Tight” by Gary Henderson at 59E59 Theaters.
Photo by Carol Rosegg

“Remember that time…”  “Yes,” she answers.  He protests “You don’t know what I was going to say.” She answers “I don’t have to. I remember everything.”

“Skin Tight,” at 59E59 Theaters in a One Year Lease production through December 1st, is an abstract love story by Gary Henderson, based on “The Magpies,” a poem by New Zealander Denis Glover.

Peter Saide as Tom and Sarah-Jane Casey as Elizabeth in “Skin Tight” by Gary Henderson at 59E59 Theaters. 
Photo by Carol Rosegg

“Skin Tight,” bristles with sensual provocations. It is intense with eroticism, frank language and nudity. Gary Henderson’s  short play is oddly interesting, opening with an fierce and well-choreographed  (by  Natalie Lomonte, former dance captain for Spidermansmackdown between an man and a woman. “Skin  Tight”  is about the enduring love between Tom (Peter Saide) and Elizabeth (Sarah-Jane Casey). 


Sarah-Jane Casey and Peter Saide in “Skin Tight” at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
The parade of their lives goes from childhood games to wartime separation, from waiting and wanting to infidelity and loyalty. It is a steamy tale, told with good humor. The fighting is brutally savage and very acrobatic.    “Skin  Tight”  is  both romantic and completely grounded. 
The place names trip lovingly off Tom’s tongue. “Point Pleasant. Fairlie. Little nothing names full of magic,” he says. “Tekapo. Pukaki. And the rivers. The Waitaki. The Rangitata.” Tom and Elizabeth have a lifetime to talk over, yet they are both fit and young, truly a handsome pair. 

Skin Tight” is an ode to reminiscences, shared forthrightly. Peter Saide and Sarah-Jane Casey are a very fetching couple, physically attractive, even imposing. They embue the story of “Skin Tight” with  a natural grace and charm.

For more information on the production, visit www.59e59.org