Posted in based on Chekhov, drama, musical theater

Honky Tonk Love

a guest review BY MARI S. GOLD

Have your Chekov with a side of grits and a blast of country-and-western music.

Kacie Sheik, Erin Dilly, Don Guillory, Bob Stillman, Andy Taylor, Kate Baldwin, Eric William Morris, Ephie Aardema, and Drew McVety in SONGBIRD at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Jenny Anderson Photography
Kacie Sheik, Erin Dilly, Don Guillory, Bob Stillman, Andy Taylor, Kate Baldwin, Eric William Morris, Ephie Aardema, and Drew McVety in SONGBIRD at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Jenny Anderson Photography

A bar-cum-music venue near Nashville is effectively evoked by Jason Sherwood’s bleached wooden boards with rows of liquor bottles above attesting to the trade of vodka for whiskey… Welcome to Songbird, at 59E59 Theater A through November 29, a play set in Opry land where. former singing great, well- portrayed and sung by Kate Baldwin, returns after a long absence. She’s home to help her son, Dean, (Adam Cochran), launch his own musical career.

Erin Dilly and Kate Baldwin in SONGBIRD at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Jenny Anderson Photography
Erin Dilly and Kate Baldwin in SONGBIRD at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Jenny Anderson Photography

 

 

We understand that Dean’s life is a wreck because Tammy more or less abandoned him but there’s little depth of feeling–we’re told rather than shown. Tammy comes home with her lover, Beck, a music producer described as a “Hitmaker”; as played by handsome Eric William Morris, he sings well (as do all the players) but he lacks sufficient swagger and authority.

There are a lot of other people milling around including Mia (Ephie Aardema), a young singer

Adam Cochran and Ephie Aardema in SONGBIRD at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Jenny Anderson Photography
Adam Cochran and Ephie Aardema in SONGBIRD at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Jenny Anderson Photography

who falls for Beck; Doc (Drew McVety), embroiled in an affair with Pauline, (an excellent Erin Dilly), Soren, Tammy’s alcoholic older brother (Bob Stillman), and Missy, (Kacie Sheik), dressed in black doing her Goth thing but characters are thinly written so it’s sometimes hard to keep them straight. Missy has a drinking problem –the other characters are warming up to one other than Soren who is already there.

The play, by Michael Kimmel, is based on Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull riffing on the original in which an actual bird is a symbol for a young woman’s happiness that   disappears when a man shoots the bird out of boredom and then presents it to her. In Songbird, it’s a bluebird that Dean hits with his truck.  Act I ends with Dean silhouetted in a doorway holding a noose. So much for foretelling.

As in Chekhov, many major incidents take place offstage. Songbird has interesting story developments, like Missy’s marriage to Rip but, like others twists, this is revealed abruptly and vanishes just as fast.

Lauren Pritchard, who wrote the terrific music and lyrics, comes from the small town of Jackson, TN, about 120 miles from Nashville, where Songbird takes place. Her Small Town Heart that opens the show as a prologue, lets us in on Tammy’s need to get away to a bigger place with more opportunities, a popular country-and-western sentiment. Highway Fantasy, well performed by Beck and Missy, is sort of a love song and sort of a regret for a romantic road not taken. There are lots of songs and language about disappointments about love and life in general.

The Seagull has been adapted and revamped by many writers ranging from Tennessee Williams to Emily Mann and staged as a play, a film and a ballet; it’s been set in the contemporary Hamptons and on an Australian beach. My guess is that this retelling, despite the excellent music and fine vocal performances, is probably not going to be the one worth enshrining.

For more information and tickets for Songbird, please visit 59e59.org.

Posted in comedy, musical theater, Uncategorized

Ship Ahoy: It’s smooth sailing

Let’s say it’s the height of the depression and you’re looking for a feel-good time, you’d likely head to a movie. It’s easy to believe the opening “credits” conceit that Dames At Sea is a picture show, maybe like something Mickey and Judy would be in.

In Dames At Sea, at the Helen Hayes in an open-run, Hennessey (John Bolton) is staging his come-back show. When their Broadway theater is bulldozed, Hennessey, with the aid of his star, Mona Kent (Lesli Margherita) and her ties to Captain Cutie-pie Courageous (Bolton again) his opening night to a battleship.

Hennessey’s cast includes the trouper Joan (the excellent Mara Davi) and newly-minted chorine, Ruby (Eloise Kropp who is a wower.) Ruby’s boyfriend, Dick (Cary Tedder), a sailor who catches Mona’s eye and ear with his songs, and Joan’s love interest, Lucky (Danny Gardner) are eager to help put on the show.

The gee-whiz factor is a big component in Dames At Sea, the creation of George Haimsohn and Robin Miller (book and lyrics) and Jim Wise (music.) Director and choreographer Randy Skinner, and Musical Director Rob Berman keep up this spirit.

Its corn-fed good humor is delivered with charm by the cast. The four kids– Joan, Lucky, Dick and Ruby– play it straight while Hennessey (and his alter ego the Captain) turn it up a notch. The diva Mona heads right on up to high camp. The energy and enthusiasm on stage had its affect in the auditorium where patrons were heard to cheer on the dancers.

The glory of the production is in the many and splendid tap dance numbers. Kropp as Ruby makes her joyous contribution, especially in the “Echo Waltz” (lyrics by Haimsohn) and “Star Tar” numbers.

The musical Dames At Sea is as amiable as an unruffled ocean voyage.

For more information about Dames At Sea, please visit http://damesatseabroadway.com/.

Posted in AmericanSongbook, BrooklynCenterForThePerformingArts, concert

Michael Feinstein Celebrates Sinatra’s 100th Birthday in Style

 

Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College opened its 2015-16 season with a concert by “The Ambassador of the Great American Songbook,” singer/pianist Michael Feinstein celebrating Frank Sinatra’s centenniel. Guest reviewer Mari S. Gold was there and reports:

Backed by a pianist, bass player and percussionist, Michael Feinstein had the audience at his Sinatra Centennial Celebration at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts eating out of his hand long before he finished his first number.

Feinstein, lithe and ageless at 59, played it smart by singing songs popularized by the Chairman of the Board as Feinstein, not as Sinatra sang them. He recounted meeting Sinatra when playing  a party at Chasen’s in Hollywood  hosted by the Sinatras and attended by the likes of Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor and other Hollywood luminaries. In hopes of having Sinatra notice him, Feinstein played obscure Sinatra songs which, it turned out, the Chairman didn’t like. However, he noticed Feinstein, talked with him and invited him for dinner.  When a young, nervous Feinstein arrived at the home of Sammy Davis, Jr. and was asked if he’d like a drink, he blurted, “Do you have any white wine?” Davis, ever on his game, responded “Baby, in this house we got all colors of wine.”

Feinstein swung through How About You and  That’s Why the Lady is a Tramp; gave a soulful, soft rendition of What Kind of Fool Am I and, backed by  screen stills of a mostly young Sinatra, sang a medley including All or Nothing at All; Angel Eyes; I’ve Got the World on a String and other Sinatra-associated numbers.

Mid-performance, Feinstein, a five-time Grammy® nominee,  talked about the Great American Songbook Foundation he founded in 2007 to preserve and perpetuate the music of masters including Jerome Kern, Sammy Kahn, Jule Styne, Richard Rogers, Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser and others. He introduced the Foundation’s Youth Ambassador, Annie Yokum, a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University. Yokum’s rendition of What Did I Have That I Don’t Have Now, with music by Burton Lane and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, was knock-out and Feinstein’s prediction of a Broadway future for her seems entirely likely.

Feinstein, who sipped water and what appeared to be tea during the performance, reappeared in a suit resplendent with rhinestone buttons, more Las Vegas than his usual somber, though always elegant, attire to sing Cole Porter’s Just One of Those Things, explaining that Porter was Sinatra’s favorite songwriter.  After plugs for his website, his Facebook page and the Foundation, he gave an “encore” number of New York, New York that sent the crowd out very happy, many singing along.

Accompanying Feinstein was heavy- hitting talent including Ted Firth on piano; Sean Smith on bass and Mark McLean on drums. Firth has been musical director/accompanist for Barbara Cook, Elaine Page, Brian Stokes Mitchell and other well-known singers;  has appeared at Carnegie Hall and performed at the White House. A major force in the international jazz scene for over twenty-five years, Smith has his own group which received the CMA/ASCP Award for Adventurous Performing in 2015; he also composes.  McLean began his career in Toronto as a jazz drummer and has worked with a broad array of artists including Billy Joel, Wynton Marsalis and pop icon George Mitchell.

For more information on the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Walt Whitman Theatre at Brooklyn College, please visit BrooklynCenter.org.

 

 

Posted in drama, love story, theater

We’re off to a puzzling start…

It’s the beginning of a new Broadway season, and the two major subscription houses have dealt us a pair of headscratchers. Both plays present iterations of love and desire. 6_0246 - Owen, Best, Reilly

While the two sides of the aisle at T and B were not both completely enchanted with the plays, we did agree that the acting in Fool for Love and Old Times was mesmerizing.38573906 3907Your motives for seeing Fool for Love and Old Times may vary. Sam Shepard has been your favorite playwright from way back. You want to see Clive Owen in his Broadway debut. Seeing Sam Rockwell throw a lasso as if he really is a rodeo wrangler like his character Eddie inspires you to go.   You never miss seeing a Harold Pinter play.  Continue reading “We’re off to a puzzling start…”

Posted in based on a true story or event, musical theater, revue

Sex Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll

Skimming the surface for a few historical highlights is what a musical revue should do. Trip of Love runs through the ’60s via pop tunes and popular dances with a side of drugs and nods to the protest movement.

Trip of Love should have stayed with the surface, since any attempts to go deeper really back-fired. The low point was a recreation of the pain of sending young men to war. The high point was that “beautiful balloon”– when an actual hot air balloon lit off into the rafters.

Lavishly staged with mostly true-to-period (if a little dramatized) costumes, designed by Gregg Barnes, and very elaborate sets, co-designed by director/creator/choreographer James Walski and Robin Wagner, Trip of Love is a bit psychedelic and a little soft-core.

Billed as “Time: Now, Place: Here,” Trip of Love aims to be hip and happenin’ baby.

Austin Miller in <b>Trip Of Love</b>, Photo by Matthew Murphy
Austin Miller in Trip Of Love, Photo by Matthew Murphy
David Elder, Dionne Figgins, and the cast of <b>Trip Of Love</b>, Photo by Matthew Murphy
David Elder, Dionne Figgins, and the cast of Trip Of Love, Photo by Matthew Murphy
Dionne Figgins and the cast of <b>Trip Of Love</b> Photo by Matthew Murphy
Dionne Figgins and the cast of Trip Of Love Photo by Matthew Murphy
Joey Calveri, Tara Palsha, and the cast of <b>Trip Of Love</b>, Photo by Matthew Murphy
Joey Calveri, Tara Palsha, and the cast of Trip Of Love, Photo by Matthew Murphy
Tara Palsha, Kelly Felthous, Dionne Figgins and the cast of <b>Trip Of Love</b>, Photo by Matthew Murphy
Tara Palsha, Kelly Felthous, Dionne Figgins and the cast of Trip Of Love, Photo by Matthew Murphy
Laurie Wells in <b>Trip Of Love</b>, Photo by Matthew Murphy
Laurie Wells in Trip Of Love, Photo by Matthew Murphy

Trip of Love stars Joey Calveri and  David Elder, both of whom are very engaging,  Kelly Felthous, Dionne Figgins, Austin Miller. Tara Palsha, who is very agile, and Laurie Wells  with a large back-up crew.

Trip of Love comes to us from its 2008 world premiere in Osaka, with the backing of groups of Japanese producers. It is scheduled for an open run at Stage 42.

For more information and tickets, please go to http://tripoflove.com/

Posted in circus

Under the little tent

It’s not all fun and games. The circus is a frenetic entertainment. In the 3-ring variety, it can be overwhelming and overstimulating.

It goes without saying that a one-ringer would be more manageable and more sensible.*

Today, the Big Apple Circus raises its tent at Damrosch Park in anticipation of the October 21st opening.

© maike schulz/Big Apple Circus
© maike schulz/Big Apple Circus

(Big Apple Circus, a one-ring spectacle, returns to Lincoln Center with a premiere set in the 1920s, from October 21st to January 10th.For the October 28th and 29th at 11am, there are specially adapted performances for those with vision or hearing impairments to enjoy The Grand Tour at Lincoln Center: Big Apple Circus presents Circus of the Senses: http://wp.me/p5jq0w-z0 *On November 17th at 11am, Big Apple Circus invites families with members who are in the autism spectrum to a special performance. )

HalloweenBigAppleCircusOn October 31st at 4:30pm, children are invited to don their costumes and join guest ringmaster, R.L. Stine for a special Halloween performance.

Posted in based on a true story or event, comedy, drama, musical theater, theater

Getting on… and going back

Mortality is an universally human concern. Aging is something that becomes more pressing as time passes. The theater often boldly addresses these issues head-on.

Production Art, Robin Phillips, artist, The Hummingbird's Tour
Production Art, Robin Phillips, artist, The Hummingbird’s Tour

If seniors are a demographic not prized by network TV, at least they can look to the stage to find an examination of their interests.

For instance, at MTC this season, Holland Taylor and Marylouise Burke fight over prime real estate in their assisted living arrangements in David Lindsay-Abaire’s Ripcord.

The Hummingbird’s Tour at the Theatre at St. Clement’s is subtitled “An End of Life Comedy.”
Margaret Dulaney’s play previews beginning October 18th and runs through November 22nd.

Nostalgia often comes with the territory as we get older. Trip of Love (in an open run) at the newly re-named Stage 42 (formerly The Little Shubert) is also a trip down memory lane. Music from the 1960s is the accompaniment for this sentimental journey.

from http://theeternalspaceplay.com/pennplans/
from http://theeternalspaceplay.com/pennplans/

Playwright Justin Rivers’ The Eternal Space is about another kind of nostalgia— we often miss the iconic buildings of our memories, and Penn Station, demolished just 50 years ago, was a gorgeous feature of our cityscape. The old beaux arts Penn Station was a mere 53 years old when the dismantling of the structure began.

 

Posted in comedy, family drama, love story, theater

Mother knows best

How much do you sacrifice for your children? The promise of greener pastures? The lure of youthful indiscretions?

Kate Wetherhead, George Merrick and Marlo Thomas in a scene from Joe DiPietro's Clever Little Lies directed by David Saint at the Westside Theatre. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Kate Wetherhead, George Merrick and Marlo Thomas in a scene from Joe DiPietro’s Clever Little Lies directed by David Saint at the Westside Theatre. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
595_Greg_Mullavey__Kate_Wetherhead_and_Marlo_Thomas_in_CLEVER_LITTLE_LIES_(Photo_595_by_Matthew_Murphy)
Greg Mullavey, Kate Wetherhead and Marlo Thomas in a scene from Joe DiPietro’s Clever Little Lies directed by David Saint at the Westside Theatre. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our self-interest, two-time Tony-winner Joe DiPietro tells us in Clever Little Lies, at the Westside Theatre/Upstairs through January 3rd, is subsumed in our parental care for our offspring. Our lives and how we live them are comprised of the choices we make; being content with those choices may be the best recipe for lifelong happiness.

Kate Wetherhead, George Merrick, Marlo Thomas and Greg Mullavey in a scene  from Joe DiPietro's Clever Little Lies directed by David Saint at the Westside Theatre. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Kate Wetherhead, George Merrick, Marlo Thomas and Greg Mullavey in a scene
from Joe DiPietro’s Clever Little Lies directed by David Saint at the Westside Theatre. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Is confession good for the soul? Ask Alice (Marlo Thomas) or her son, Billy (George Merrick). When Bill, Sr. (Greg Mullavey) beats Billy in a Friday tennis match, he senses that something is wrong. Sworn to secrecy over Billy’s confidence, Bill is unable to keep Alice from finding out what the two men discussed. What does Billy’s wife Jane (Kate Wetherhead) guess about what’s going on?

Sometimes, it’s all about the pauses. Noone is better at the pregnant pause than Greg Mullavey. He expresses shock and pain with tense and well-orchestrated stillness.

The cast, under David Saint’s direction,  are terrific. Kate Wetherhead exposes her cluelessness in such a knowing way that rooting for her comes naturally. Marlo Thomas gives a poignant, intuitive and funny performance. George Merrick runs a gamut of emotions as naturally as if he were revealing his faults and weaknesses to us. Everything–and everyone– on the stage rings true.

Yoshi Tanokura (scenic design) and Christian J. Bailey (lighting) play with the limits of the stage by using cinematic effects. The scenic design is bolstered by a wonderful series of films pinpointing the places where Clever Little Lies takes us. This is a sophisticated production of an intelligently-written play.

For more information about Clever Little Lies, please visit http://www.cleverlittlelies.com/

Posted in dance, Uncategorized

Beauty in motion and repose

Watching dancers can be truly breathtaking. Need I say that the ballet professional is awe-inspiring.

In ABT’s Les Sylphides, one afternoon last Spring during their 75th anniversary season, even dancers who were perfectly still were a moving sight.

The piece set to music by Chopin was choreographed by Michel Fokine and first staged by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russe in 1909. Benjamin Britten’s orchestration for the dance was commissioned by Ballet Theatre (now ABT) in 1941. Fokine’s sole purpose in creating this dance may have been to dazzle. Lucinda Ballard’s ethereal costumes give white its own palette.

Watching the American Ballet Theater’s Les Sylphides is a transformative experience.


A recent NYCB production of Ballanchine’s nearly full-length Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3 provided a similarly transportive experience. The dancers are firmly holding their space, in command of their bodies, and the viewer is taken to another realm. To this viewer, the temptresses in the first three movements Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3 are as seductive as the sirens in Les Sylphides. Its elegiac Elégie, gorgeous Valse Melancolique, and Scherzo, with the dancers playing behind a screen (costumes and scenery by Nicolas Benois) are wild and fluid. The ballerinas let down their hair, the men wear loose, flowing pants. The cast, from Rebecca Krohn, Megan LeCrone, and Ana Sophia Scheller, backed by a stirring and whirling corps, and supported by Russell Janzen (in the first pairing). Justin Peck (in the second) and Antonio Carmena, are inspiring to behold. Part 4, Tema con Variazoni, danced frequently on its own as Theme and Variations, was created as a commission in 1947 for Ballet Theatre (now ABT.)

Today it feels like mixing companies is worse than mixing metaphors. It’s as if we were showing appreciation for the Mets and the Yankees, for the Jets and the Giants, the Knicks and the Nets… but none of these are worthy of our attention the way the two great New York-based ballet companies are.

Posted in dance

Ready for Playtime

General Mischief Up and Away Photo by Joshua Green
General Mischief Up and Away Photo by Joshua Green

General Mischief Dance Theatre presents the World Premiere of Up and Away – Dances for all Hours, on October 11 at 1pm and 6pm at the Goldman-Sonnenfeldt Family Auditorium, JCC Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Avenue, NYC.  Funding for the mobile that Kevin Reese produces which will be built in Washington, D.C. by hundreds of volunteers as part of the Atlas Arts Center’s “Mobilizing Our Community” project is provided by D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. More information about the project can be found here: http://www.atlasarts.org/mobilizing-our-community/.

Photo by John Abbott
Photo by John Abbott

BY MARI S. GOLD

Play is for everyone regardless of how old they are– that’s the underlying message of General Mischief Dance Theater, a company dedicated to reinforcing the power that joy and laughter have in communicating ideas.  A performance by this winning group of young dancers left me smiling from ear to ear along with the rest of the audience who ranged from three to eighty-three or so.

General Mischief's "Shell Game" photo, (c) Lynn Redmile
General Mischief’s “Shell Game” photo, (c) Lynn Redmile

“Be ready to play,” the program instructs–good advice for a performance in which wiffle balls are handed out for tossing at the command “play ball,” a mobile is built by dancers as they skip and twirl and a dad from the audience comes to the stage to show his “favorite dance step” which the company incorporates into the next piece.

General Mischief Up and Away>/b> Photo by Joshua Green
General Mischief Up and Away>/b> Photo by Joshua Green

The five dances on display are lighthearted and impish–not a downcast moment throughout.  It’s a spoonful of sugar that might benefit from a dash of lemon juice if the troupe wants to move into more serious terrain.

General Mischief's 'Hardball' - Photo Copyright Eileen O'Donnell
General Mischief’s ‘Hardball’ – Photo Copyright Eileen O’Donnell

Cute is the word of the day, describing both the dancers and the dances whether they deal with baseball as in Hardball with Jane Abbott and Ellen Henry in pinstripes and baseball caps, both twined in harnesses that lift them up where they twist and stage a contest of wills set to “Dueling Banjos” or Suite Shel, inspired by the poems of Shel Silverstein, that begins as six pair of shoes from the audience are collected and become part of the work.

Several dances blend arial work with floor movement and many draw on childhood pursuits like hopscotch, counting games and teasing.

General Mischief - Dad Moves (Square), Photo by John Abbott
General Mischief – Dad Moves (Square), Photo by John Abbott

The helpful dad kicked off The Love Trio, a three- part work celebrating the role fathers play in taking daughters to dance classes. Part One, The Deal, effectively performed by Jane Abbott, Wendy Lechuga, Ellen Henry, Saki Masuda and Emily Smyth Vartanian, culminates with one student stubbornly dancing in a rock ‘n roll style while her fellow classmates follow the classical steps as demonstrated by the instructor.  A similar tension informs the Suite Shel section when a dancer insists on singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider (in a language I couldn’t identify) as another tries to make friends and join the game but is constantly rebuffed. I found the final piece, Recreation, the least successful as constructing the large mobile, designed by Kevin Reese/School Sculptures, took precedence over the dancing, a small caveat. More dancing, less architecture please.

General Mischief was formally incorporated in 2008 to encourage the human desire to express oneself through movement. Their interactive work encourages the audience to loosen up, a welcome antidote to some dance performances that take themselves over-seriously. Up and Away is a joyful experience for anyone of any age who hasn’t forgotten how to play or wants the opportunity to relax, smile and enjoy attractive young people have a good time and make us have one, too.