Sunday, December 3, 2006

Review - Outing Wittgenstein (Castillo Theatre)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Douglas Adams’ The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy introduces a drink called the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster — the best alcoholic drink in existence — the effect of which is “like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.” The same can be said of the Castillo Theatre’s production of Fred Newman’s play Outing Wittgenstein; the show is rich, dense, and tart, but after nearly two hours of getting hit over the head with it, you’re ready for rehab.

Most of this is due to the play itself, not the work of the Castillo Theatre, which does a good job with the unconventional show. In the play, Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is brought back to life in order to appear on Sally McNally’s talk show, ‘This Is Your Death.’ And since any good ‘This Is Your Life’ knock-off has to feature friends of the guest, Sally’s team brings back an assortment of people from Ludwig’s life, including Bertrand Russell, Adolf Hitler, and Carmen Miranda. Wittgenstein is also joined by Wiggy, his flamboyantly gay alter-ego, who is intent on letting the world know that Wittgenstein was gay.

With me so far? Okay. Now throw in a condensed version of Wittgenstein’s philosophy from Tractatus to his theories on language, a story about his last words, a dance number featuring Carmen Miranda with Bertrand Russell as one of her backup dancers, an appearance by Gretl, Wittgenstein’s sister who is, oddly enough, Sally McNally’s alter ego, and there you have Outing Wittgenstein. At least the first act.

The second act moves from the television studio to Central Park where a group of friends are discussing Wittgenstein, his philosophy, his sexuality, and his appearance on Sally McNally’s show. Sexual secrets come to light and reality is turned on its head as the true nature of Wittgenstein, Wiggy, Sally, and any number of the other characters, is revealed in an incredible twist. That’s ‘incredible’ as in implausible to the point of eliciting disbelief.

This brings up the major problem of the play: it’s a farce that’s trying a little too hard to be educational — or perhaps vice versa. Newman wants his audience to come away from this play with an understanding of the basics of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, life, and influences, while addressing the nature of sexuality and identity. But he wants to do it in a rollicking and outrageous farce, full of wild characters and absurd situations. Unfortunately, the two do not combine well. This is especially obvious in the first act, where the absurdity of bringing a dead man (not to mention his gay alter ego) back to life for a talk show, then having a guest appearance by Hitler and a dance number with Carmen Miranda, is undercut by dialogue that sounds like a lecture in Philosophy 101.

The second act is better integrated, primarily because all of the philosophy and background has already been presented. As a result, the action moves faster, allowing the absurdity to shine.

The large cast is generally good, and features several outstanding performances. Chief among these are Kenneth Hughes as Herman, the randy announcer on ‘This Is Your Death,’ James Arden as Wittgenstein’s flamboyantly gay alter ego, and Gary Patent as Eddie Thomas, one of the friends in Central Park. If the actors in the show can be said to have any one problem, and this is more in the first act, it is that several of them seem unsure what they are supposed to do when not speaking. Some shut down, quietly marking time until their next line. One or two resorted to mugging for the audience. A firmer grip by director Dan Friedman could have helped manage this.

Castillo Theatre deserves high marks for the production values in Outing Wittgenstein. The decision to use two different theatre spaces, one for the talk show, another for Central Park, forces set designer Joseph Spirito to do double duty and he responds admirably, creating two very well-done sets. Alexander Casagrande’s lighting design complements both of them nicely. Also worth noting is Barry Z. Levine and Joseph Spirito’s video design used in ‘This Is Your Death’, which helped cement the illusion of being on a real talk show soundstage.

One final note about the production. It features several actors from Youth Onstage!, the youth theatre of the All Star Project, which brings performance-based educational programs to inner city youth in Newark and New York City. Castillo Theatre is to be commended for giving these talented youth an opportunity to be part of the Off-Off Broadway scene and part of an unusual and challenging play like Outing Wittgenstein. Considering how many young actors don’t get to do anything more challenging than Arsenic and Old Lace or Pippin in high school, this is a great thing. Here’s hoping that these young actors continue to pursue theatre in the future.

Written by Fred Newman
Directed by Dan Friedman

Castillo Theatre
543 West 42nd Street

Through December 3rd

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Review - The Bronx Balmers (Off The Leash Productions)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Picture it: The Bronx, 1969. An idyllic Jewish neighborhood that hasn’t changed in decades suddenly finds itself on the fast track to the future, whatever that may be. The right people are moving up, the wrong people are moving in, and the people who are in the middle are just trying to figure out what to do next.

The Balmers and the Minkoffs are in that middle group. Rose Balmer (Dorcey Winant) desperately wants to move up: the Masada on Grand Concourse. Irving and Sylvia Minkoff (Michael DeNola and Goldie Zwiebel) want to move out: Long Island. Harry Balmer (Larry Greenbush) wants to see the world: Africa. Rose and Harry’s daughter, Debra (Amanda Nichols), just wants to come home. Well, maybe wants is too strong a word. But come home she does, with a little surprise for the family.

The Bronx Balmers is a fairly conventional family comedy/drama. But considering this is playwright Jeremy Handelman’s first play, that’s not a bad thing. It could easily have been a nostalgic memory play about the good old times in the Bronx. Instead, Handelman chooses to show this family as it is, warts and all. Rose is a schemer who isn’t above using blackmail and betrayal to get what she wants. Irving’s a racist, not that he would ever consider himself to be, who has a secret that could ruin his life. Harry is tired of his life and wants something more, but when push comes to shove, he’s not willing to fight for it. Debra’s a spitfire who wants to shake things up. They are crazy, angry, happy, sad, and above all, they are believable.

As expected, there were the usual glitches that face newly opened shows in small theatres: flubbed lines, awkward blocking, a chuppa that seemed determined to fall over (okay, that’s not exactly a ‘usual’ glitch). But the main problem with the play is that it wants to tackle every issue that the family is facing. It deals with racism, anti-Semitism, adultery, betrayal, the Mets vs. the Yankees, urban flight, the disintegration of social groups, the disintegration of families, and the inevitable change that the 1960s heralded throughout the country. Unfortunately, trying to deal with so many topics makes the play seem a little heavy, especially in the second half where the characters attend what is probably the most awkward party ever thrown in Bronxville. While most of the play works, it would likely run smoother if it had a tighter focus.

The Bronx Balmers features a talented cast. Dorcey Winant’s Rose is a strong, opinionated woman, and Winant seems to delight in playing her highs and lows without making her two-dimensional. As Irving, Michael DeNola manages to be sleazy but fairly likeable. Goldie Zwiebel is charming as the patient and sweet Sylvia. Harry Balmer, ably played by Larry Greenbush, is frustratingly passive, until he reaches his breaking point. The same can be said of George Santana’s Pop, who comes across as a sweet teddy bear, until faced with being used by his daughter. Rounding out the cast is the lovely Amanda Nichols as Harry and Rose’s exasperated daughter, Debra. She was at her best when working to choke back her anger at her family’s hypocrisy.

While The Bronx Balmers has some flaws, it shows the potential that Handelman has, especially if he continues to work with a talented cast and crew. And if he keeps exploring his Bronx roots, New York audiences can expect bigger and better things from him in the future.

Written by Jeremy Handelman
Directed by Linda Burson

Turtle Shell Theatre
300 W. 43rd St., 4th Floor
Through November 19

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Review - Stranger Than Fiction: Three Plays Based on Fact (Turtle Shell Productions)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Stranger Than Fiction offers an evening of short plays by playwright Norman Beim, all based (more or less) in fact. While the evening doesn’t always show Beim’s well-written plays in their best light, the good outweighs the bad.

The first short play is the endearing A Love Story, an epistolary tale of a platonic love shared by Frieda (Rachel Eve Moses), a young Polish girl, and Mr. Fischel (Christopher Henney), the man who cared for her and her family during World War I. Considering that the action of the play consists of nothing more than two people sitting at writing desks writing letters, the play is remarkably engaging. This is due in large part to the charming Moses, whose expressive face and voice create a totally believable and lovable character. Henney, as the proper storekeeper who loves the young Frieda like a daughter, has a shy awkwardness that is endearing.

The second play of the evening, A Queen’s Revenge, is the weakest of the three. This over-the-top story of John (Henney), an aging gay man whose younger lover, Jack (Matthew Schmidt), leaves him for Jill (Moses) feels incomplete. The climax, a cruel and vindictive punishment straight out of urban legend that John visits upon the young lovers, occurs in the play’s final moment. This abrupt ending leaves all the interesting stuff (how Jack and Jill react to a terrible violation, what they do to John, etc.) unexplored.

Another problem in this play was Henney’s portrayal of John. As the title of the play suggests, John should be a queen: flamboyant, witty, and cruel. Instead, Henney plays him as a mild, gay gentleman, somewhat arch, but ultimately harmless. As a result, the revenge seems out of character, and worse, his moderate interpretation doesn’t give his fellow actors much to react to in the moments that are supposed to be intense and dramatic.

The final play, The Deserter, offers a fascinating look into the last moments of Private Eddie Slovik, the only American soldier executed for desertion in World War II. Beim imagines a priest (Henney) taking confession from the soon-to-die Private (Ian Campbell Dunn). Along the way, the Private voices his opposition to war and how it conflicts with his Christian faith, while the Father shrugs off his concerns and arguments with justifications that are decidedly more Army than Vatican. While this play would be stronger if Henney were more expressive as the priest, Dunn’s portrayal of the unsure Private Slovik makes this a moving piece of theatre.

As would be expected from an evening with three plays, the sets are spare and easily changed. That being said, the technical team (John W. Cooper, Maya Animayka, Lisa Weinshrott, Michael L. Kimmel and Sarah Mariece) do much with little. The sets, lighting and sound enhance each of the plays nicely.

If you are a fan of the prolific Norman Beim, Stranger Than Fiction is not to be missed. And despite the problems with the second play, The Love Story and The Deserter make this a production worth attending.

Written by Norman Beim
Directed by Norman Beim
Turtle Shell Productions
300 W. 43rd St., 4th Floor

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Review - Autumn Moon (Wings Theatre Company)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Judging by the audience at this evening’s performance of Autumn Moon, which is being billed as a ‘rock thriller musical,’ there seemed to be two general reactions. First, and sadly the one shared by much of the audience, was head-scratching befuddlement. But those of us of a certain age, say mid-to-late thirties, knew exactly what this show was: a sly and dead-on homage to the horror films of the 1980s (Fright Night, The Howling, American Werewolf in London, etc.).

Lycan Weir (and let’s face it, short of calling him Wolfy McWerewolf, this is the perfect name to bring the audience up to speed) is a troubled young man (normally played by David Weitzer, Lycan was played by understudy Jeremy Jonet tonight). Approaching his 25th birthday, he’s having troubling nightmares. Unable to exorcise his demons by writing down his dreams, and only temporarily calmed by his loving wife, Esmay (Mishaela Faucher), he does the only thing that anyone in his situation would do: he turns to a gypsy fortune-teller, Beta (Dana Barathy), for help.

Beta tells him of a curse placed on his family generations ago, when one of his ancestors made a pact with Minion (Jesse Easley), a lord of the underworld. On his 25th birthday, he, like his forefathers, will turn into a savage, blood-thirsty beast and will continue to do so with each full moon. But Beta offers him a way out. Using magic and his cursed blood, she can send him back in time, back to the time of the curse, where he can take the place of one of his ancestors and save his family from destruction. All he has to do is find Isis (also played by Mishaela Faucher), a young gypsy girl, save her from death at the hands of Lawrence (Scott Richard Foster), and the curse will be lifted.


But even if it is, will Lycan ever return to his own time? And are any of these people who they seem to be?

Even though Lycan’s own time is present day, and the time he travels back to is the mid-1800s, everything about the production screamed The Eighties. David Velarde’s score featured power ballads that Meatloaf would dig (Isis and Lycan’s ‘All of My Life’) and rock/new wave songs (Minion’s ‘Shout It Out’) that were just begging for Billy Idol’s sneer. Lauren Cozza’s choreography was perfectly in sync with the style of each song and the general ’80s vibe.

Costume designer Stephen Smith followed the theme by creating classic punk rock outfits for Minion and Lawrence, and some truly inspired outfits for The Pack, the supporting ensemble. The makeup and hair (the big, teased, moussed hair) was well-suited for the period, and brought to mind several fashion disasters from my own youth.

Taking it up a notch was the marvelous lighting design by Julie Seitel. Her work was delightfully over the top in the more music video-type numbers like ‘Lycan’s Dream’ and ‘Shout It Out’.
The acting and singing were generally strong, though understudy Jeremy Jonet sounded tentative in several of his numbers, especially those with Mishaela Faucher, whose strong voice occasionally overpowered his. Faucher had the most poignant song of the evening, the sweet lullabye ‘Dream Catcher’, which she delivered wonderfully. As Beta, Dana Barathy easily stole every scene she was in, not just because of her smokin’ hot costume, but because of her distinctive voice and the Eartha Kitt lilt in her delivery. Her scenes with Jesse Easley’s rough and cocky Minion featured a dangerous, yet playful, give and take between the two actors. Scott Richard Foster is to be commended for his strong falsetto which he was called upon to demonstrate again and again; he was up to the challenge each time. The Pack (William Broyles, Sara Fetgatter, Marissa Lupp, Rebecca Riker and Amber Shirley) were uniformly good as actors, singers and dancers. The women of The Pack shone in the ‘Gypsy Theme’ instrumental number, which featured some nice, athletic choreography. Broyles is worth mentioning as well for his outstanding physical work (especially as a grotesque homunculus serving Beta) which was backed up by a strong speaking and singing voice.

Director Jonathan Stuart Cerullo kept the pacing quick, the blocking interesting and generally did a very good job with the production.

The primary weakness in this show was in the book and the lyrics, also by David Velarde. The dialogue was stilted and forced, featuring some groaners that sounded like they were taken from bodice-ripper romance novels. The lyrics (which were often drowned out by the overly loud music) seemed to set a mood more than advance the story. The story itself was overly complicated and several key scenes were under explained. The twist at the end (and all good ’80s horror films had a twist at the end) was great, but the explanation was abrupt, leaving more than a few audience members lost.

If you go into this musical with an open mind and an appreciation for the genre that Velarde is paying tribute to, you will probably have a pretty good time. If this all sounds like a little too much for you, or you are looking for a ‘traditional’ musical, then this one is probably not for you.

Want to find out more? Autumn Moon has a website with photos of the cast, other info about the production, and clips of many of the songs. You can even order the cast album. The show runs through September 2nd.

Book, Music and Lyrics by David Velarde
Directed and Staged by Jonathan Stuart Cerullo
Wings Theatre Company as part of its New Musicals Series

Monday, August 21, 2006

Review - Moral Values: A Grand Farce, or Me No Likey The Homo Touch-Touch (NY International Fringe Festival)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

It’s the very near future and the conservatives’ nightmare has come true: gay marriage has been made legal. Not only that, but the President has gone so far as to legislate that every family in the United States take in a gay, married person for two weeks as part of the new program called GESS (Gays Educating Scared Straights).

Despite his rabid patriotism, John Smith (Josh La Casse) is having none of it. The very thought of having one of ‘those people’ in his house is enough to make him want to . . . well, jump through a plate glass window, as it turns out. He doesn’t want to risk having his adoring wife, Margaret (Carrie McCrossen), jock son, Michael (Roger Lirtsman), innocent daughter, Stacy (Maria McConville), and adorable moppet, Billy, perverted by a deranged homosexual. Never mind, of course, that Margaret is about to leave him for Estaban (Graham Skipper), the mailman. Or that Michael is a steroid freak and Stacy has an internet sex show. And Billy . . . well no one can really remember the last time they saw him. But they’re sure he’s fine.

Enter the deranged homosexual, Steve (Isaac Oliver), who as it turn out is a meek, normal looking guy who is not in the least bit trying to destroy Western civilization. While being menaced by John, who starts spinning out of control, Steve attempts to bond with the rest of the family, as mandated by law. After becoming friends with the kids, he confesses his big secret. He’s straight. The government didn’t have enough homosexuals to participate in their GESS program (even after forcing all of them to), so it resorted to drafting men who were suspected of being gay. Metrosexuals beware.

As would be expected in a show with ‘farce’ in the title, much of this show is deliciously over-the-top. In fact, the main weakness is that it doesn’t let itself go nearly as much as it could. The most ludicrious moments, John leaping through a window, Estaban ripping open his shirt to expose his bull tattoo, the introduction of Binky, John’s childhood toy and voice of reason, all of those were hilarious. The finale of the play, an ecstatic dance number that had the audience clapping and laughing, had the prolonged intensity that the rest of the play only had in flashes. And ultimately, this play needed more of that.

Ian McWethy’s script was good and he dealt with complicated and touchy subjects with a deftly amusing hand, though at times it seemed that he wrote it while channeling Seth MacFarlane. Director Jeffrey Glaser did a good job, though the show would have been better had he really pushed the absurd aspects.

The cast was excellent. As John, Josh LaCasse was a dervish of anger and red-faced frustration. The scene where he relived, or possibly imagined, a homosexual encounter from his college days was priceless. Carrie McCrossen was funny as Margaret, especially in her scenes with Estaban, but it was as an Automated Voice on a phone menu that she truly excelled. Roger Lirtsman and Maria McConville played well off on another, and they had the teenage sibling relationship down perfectly. Graham Skipper was amusing as Estaban, but a little of that character went a long way. As Binky, the wise plush toy who tries to pull John from the edge of madness, he was brilliant. Isaac Oliver’s Steve was inoffensively amusing in a Jon Cryer sort of way. His bemused frustration was fun to watch and his phone scene with McCrossen was wonderful.

Richardon Jones, who played damn near everyone else in the show, was fantastic. His turn as a predatory frat boy was hilarious. With respect to LaCasse, I would have liked to have seen what Jones would have done with John Smith. Looking older, he might have been a more appropriate choice for that role than the young-looking LaCasse.

Production values for the show were not great. The lighting especially was disappointing and often left characters delivering their lines from shadows. I imagine this had more to do with the show having to share its space with other productions, rather than a poorly thought out lighting design. At least the lack of scenery made set changes quick and they didn’t skimp on Binky’s costume with was great.

All in all, this was an amusing play and a solid production. With a little more time and money, and a ‘throw caution to the wind’ attitude, it could have been even better.

Take a minute to visit the website. It’s really nicely done.

Written by Ian McWethy
Directed by Jeffrey Glaser
New York International Fringe Festival

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Review - Blonde Bloggers Bitching (The Duplex Cabaret Theatre)

Stage Buzz Review by Jere Williams

These friends came to the Big Apple from Northwestern University with stars in their eyes and hope in their hearts … only to find out that life in Manhattan isn’t exactly all Sex in the City. So they took to the internet to bitch about their love lives, or lack thereof, on their blogs. And a cabaret show was born.

Clarice Mazanec and Kat Voboril’s Blonde Bloggers Bitching is roughly based on their real-life experiences dating a variety of losers and wannabes on their quest for that elusive Mr. Right. Wow! Who would ever have thought that even stunning blonde goddesses would have trouble finding a date?

Highlights included a priceless opening medley of showtunes representing dating life in NYC. These two hooked me right away and I was laughing hysterically at their contemporary takes on some musical theatre classics, as well as more modern fare. The popular favorite with the crowd was a rendition of Rent’s “Take Me As I Am,” which was later brought back as an encore at the end of the evening.

There was clever juxtaposition afoot when the ladies chose a little-known song by George Gershwin, Otto Harbach, and Oscar Hammerstein II called “Vodka” to follow the Fred Barton perennial “Pour Me A Man” from Miss Gulch Returns. Despite it’s pedigree, I wasn’t familiar with “Vodka,” a paean to the eponymous liquor, but it went along swimmingly with Barton’s comic, drunken ode to liquor as a substitute for people of the male persuasion.

Voboril and Mazanec ran the gamut from classic show tunes to more contemporary musical theatre (even including a song from one of this season’s Best Musical nominees, The Color Purple) to pop. There were even original compositions from musical director Robby Stamper, who ably abetted the ladies on the piano.

Flaws were few … sure, the second half of the show is a little too ballad heavy and could use an uptempo number here and there, but each and every ballad was well chosen and well sung. Voboril, the shorter of the two ladies, needs to be careful that the microphone stand isn’t so high that the mic blocks her face. And some of the between-song patter, especially the prerecorded stuff, needs to be reconsidered as it tends to veer the evening a bit too preciously close to Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw and her sometimes ponderous Sex and the City voice overs.
I definitely recommend checking this show out whenever Voboril and Mazanec book a return engagement. Keep an eye out for them. These blondes are going places.

Further information: Blonde Bloggers Bitching runs approximately 54 minutes and started 11 minutes late at the performance that I attended. If you are interested in checking out the blogs that inspired the show, Clarice Mazanec’s is called Sometimes A Blonde Just Needs To Vent and Kat Voboril’s is Real Emotional Girl.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

And the nominees are . . .

2006 Tony Awards nominees were announced today.

Best Play
The History Boys
The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Rabbit Hole
Shining City

Best Musical
The Color Purple
The Drowsy Chaperone
Jersey Boys
The Wedding Singer

Best Revival of a Play
Awake and Sing!
The Constant Wife
Faith Healer

Best Revival of a Musical
The Pajama Game
Sweeney Todd
The Threepenny Opera

Best Book of a Musical
The Color Purple, Marsha Norman
The Drowsy Chaperone, Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Jersey Boys, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
The Wedding Singer, Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics)
The Color Purple, Music & Lyrics: Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, Stephen Bray
The Drowsy Chaperone, Music & Lyrics: Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
The Wedding Singer, Music: Matthew Sklar, Lyrics: Chad Beguelin
The Woman in White, Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics: David Zippel

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
Ralph Fiennes, Faith Healer
Richard Griffiths, The History Boys
Zeljko Ivanek, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial
Oliver Platt, Shining City
David Wilmot, The Lieutenant of Inishmore

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Kate Burton, The Constant Wife
Judy Kaye, Souvenir
Lisa Kron, Well
Cynthia Nixon, Rabbit Hole
Lynn Redgrave, The Constant Wife

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
Michael Cerveris, Sweeney Todd
Harry Connick, Jr., The Pajama Game
Stephen Lynch, The Wedding Singer
Bob Martin, The Drowsy Chaperone
John Lloyd Young, Jersey Boys

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
Sutton Foster, The Drowsy Chaperone
LaChanze, The Color Purple
Patti LuPone, Sweeney Todd
Kelli O’Hara, The Pajama Game
Chita Rivera, Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
Samuel Barnett, The History Boys
Domhnall Gleeson, The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Ian McDiarmid, Faith Healer
Mark Ruffalo, Awake and Sing!
Pablo Schreiber, Awake and Sing!

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
Tyne Daly, Rabbit Hole
Frances de la Tour, The History Boys
Jayne Houdyshell, Well
Alison Pill, The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Zoe Wanamaker, Awake and Sing!

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
Danny Burstein, The Drowsy Chaperone
Jim Dale, The Threepenny Opera
Brandon Victor Dixon, The Color Purple
Manoel Felciano, Sweeney Todd
Christian Hoff, Jersey Boys

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
Carolee Carmello, Lestat
Felicia P. Fields, The Color Purple
Megan Lawrence, The Pajama Game
Beth Leavel, The Drowsy Chaperone
Elisabeth Withers-Mendes, The Color Purple

Best Direction of a Play
Nicholas Hytner, The History Boys
Wilson Milam, The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Bartlett Sher, Awake and Sing!
Daniel Sullivan, Rabbit Hole

Best Direction of a Musical
John Doyle, Sweeney Todd
Kathleen Marshall, The Pajama Game
Des McAnuff, Jersey Boys
Casey Nicholaw, The Drowsy Chaperone

Best Choreography
Rob Ashford, The Wedding Singer
Donald Byrd, The Color Purple
Kathleen Marshall, The Pajama Game
Casey Nicholaw, The Drowsy Chaperone

Best Orchestrations
Larry Blank, The Drowsy Chaperone
Dick Lieb and Danny Troob, The Pajama Game
Steve Orich, Jersey Boys
Sarah Travis, Sweeney Todd

Best Scenic Design of a Play
John Lee Beatty, Rabbit Hole
Bob Crowley, The History Boys
Santo Loquasto, Three Days of Rain
Michael Yeargan, Awake and Sing!

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
John Lee Beatty, The Color Purple
David Gallo, The Drowsy Chaperone
Derek McLane, The Pajama Game
Klara Zieglerova, Jersey Boys

Best Costume Design of a Play
Michael Krass, The Constant Wife
Santo Loquasto, A Touch of the Poet
Catherine Zuber, Awake and Sing!
Catherine Zuber, Seascape

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Gregg Barnes, The Drowsy Chaperone
Susan Hilferty, Lestat
Martin Pakledinaz, The Pajama Game
Paul Tazewell, The Color Purple

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Christopher Akerlind, Awake and Sing!
Paul Gallo, Three Days of Rain
Mark Henderson, Faith Healer
Makr Henderson, The History Boys

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Ken Billington and Brian Monahan, The Drowsy Chaperone
Howell Binkley, Jersey Boys
Natasha Katz, Tarzan
Brian MacDevitt, The Color Purple

Special Tony Award
Sarah Jones, Bridge & Tunnel

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theater
Harold Prince

Regional Theater Tony Award
Intiman Theater, Seattle

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Review - For a Good Time Call . . . (The Duplex Cabaret Theatre)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

One’s a cute blonde with a killer smile. The other’s a tall, sultry redhead. Both have voices that are equally at home belting or crooning. And they sure know how to work a crowd.
Even though For a Good Time Call . . . marks the cabaret debut of its stars, Melissa Driscol and Hannah Ingram, that’s not to say that the girls are inexperienced. Both are proud members of the USO World Show Troupe, “The Liberty Belles,” and have performed for military audiences all over the country. They also have a solid background in musical theatre, having performed in shows from My Fair Lady to Beauty and the Beast.

The eclectic mix of songs in For a Good Time Call . . . nicely shows off Driscol and Ingram’s talents. Their versions of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Billy-A-Dick” and Cole Porter’s “Friendship” show that they can swing and jive with the best of them. They demonstrate a similar talent for introspection with Ingram’s quiet and contemplative “As Long As I Can Dream,” by their accompanist, Robby Stamper, and Driscoll’s heartbreaking take on “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt.

But where Driscol and Ingram really shine is in their comic numbers. In Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler’s “Nothing I Wouldn’t Do,” the ladies are being wooed by the same man and are willing to go to hilarious extremes to outdo each other. Ingram sings of her attraction to the follicly-challenged in “I Want Them . . . ” (also by Goldrich and Heisler) and does it so well that no doubt several men in the audience thought of heading to a barber. Driscol follows up with Julie Brown’s “‘Cause I’m a Blond,” a tribute to the girl who knows all the boys want her and all the girls want to be her. Their final comic duet is the uproarious “Making Love Alone” by Marilyn Miller and Cheryl Hardwick. Suffice it to say, it’s about exactly what you think it’s about.

Driscol and Ingram promise a good time and they certainly deliver in this enjoyable show.

Performed by Melissa Driscol and Hannah Ingram

The Duplex Cabaret Theatre
Mondays, April 3, 10, 17, 24 and May 8 at 9:30 pm

Fundraiser - Ten Grand Productions

Saturday, April 22, 2006
9 pm – 1 am
Please join Ten Grand’s growing community at this exciting fundraiser for our upcoming production of Stopping to Listen, hosted by Scopa on Saturday, April 22, 2006.

Whether you are a Die-Hard Karaoke Competitor, or an Average Joe who sings in the shower (when your roommate isn’t listening), we’ve made this night all about you!

Beginning at 9pm, the Karaoke Karnival invites anyone who hates competing to sing what they will until 10pm.

The Karaoke Karnival’s contest portion kicks off at 10pm for a no-holds-barred sing-off to find the best of the best. We will only have 25 Spots available for the competition. Arrive early to reserve your place!
The winner is based on Audience Participation, so make sure you bring
your friends and fans with you.
During the evening, sign up to sing – after the contest we invite
anyone who dares to get up and let loose during another free-for-all until 1 am!

The Karaoke Karnival will be held at Scopa, located at 79 Madison Avenue (at East 28th Street). Scopa is a short, convenient walk from the 28th Street stops on the 6, and N/R subway lines.
Tickets are $8 in advance via our website (strongly recommended) and $10 at the door (cash only).
For tickets and contest details, please call (212) 696-7344 or visit for more information.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Review - The WYSIWYG Talent Show: Starfucker - Close Encounters of the Famous Kind

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

The first WYSIWYG Talent Show at it’s new home, Bowery Poetry Club, was full of ups, downs and the occasional sideways. The new venue is smaller than the old space (P.S. 122), with quite a bit less seating. While this made for a nice crowded feel at last night’s show, it doesn’t bode well for the extremely popular I Love a Parade or Worst.Sex.Ever. shows. And since there are no longer advanced ticket sales, you’re highly encouraged to show up early. Luckily the Bowery Poetry Club features a bar (with Magners, glory be!), so you’ll be glad you did. While the bloggers who perform at this monthly reading series are generally amusing, everything is funnier with a slight buzz.

Last night’s show Starfucker - Close Encounters of the Famous Kind featured seven bloggers discussing their brushes with fame: stalking celebrities, digging through garbage, appearing on reality tv - all in a bid to be famous, or at least famous by proxy. In most cases, it didn’t make them famous, but it did make for some fun storytelling.

First up was Matthew Callan, who kicked things off with an amusing story about digging through popcorn, soda dregs, half-eaten hot dogs, and only God knows what else, just to claim a Mike Piazza foul ball. Matt’s story was great and no doubt had the baseball geeks in the audience coveting his piece of history.

Lindsay Robertson followed with the tale of her ‘Summer of Corey Feldman,’ during which she and Corey lived in the same L.E.S. building and she, at least according to the media, stalked him. Lindsay was a great performer and her story had just the right take on the evening’s topic.
Next up was Derek Hartley, who as a former Hollywood insider and current radio host, had the most A-list celebrity stories. His delivery was great and the stories he told were brilliant - and probably could keep a team of lawyers busy for a very long time.

Project Runway contestant Diana Eng was up next with a story of her rise from fashion nerd to reality tv star and the freaks who came out of the woodwork to greet her. Diana was cute and endearing, and though her story was short, it involved faux-robot ‘man parts’, which was unique, even for WYSIWYG.

Rachel Parenta followed, and while she seemed a little off her game - perhaps due to the new venue which made it hard to see and hear the audience - she scored a solid hit with her song about Gabriel Byrne and how he refuses to return her calls, even though everyone knows he loves her.

Next up was Doug Gordon who told a couple of quick stories about ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’, meeting Ted and Jane at a Braves game, and having Claudia Schiffer offer to buy him ice cream. He saved most of his time for a hilarious and cringe-inducing story of how he was partially responsible for gameshow/talkshow host John Davidson singing a love song to a pig in front of a bunch of angry Charlie Daniels fans. This was easily the high point of the evening.
Finally, drag diva Amnesia Sparkles performed a very off-kilter piece about her now famous appearance on American Idol. Amnesia also seemed off her game - in fact, she may have been playing an entirely different sport altogether - but as she would probably agree, when you’re fabulous, you don’t have to be coherent.

While WYSIWYG gurus Chris Hampton, Andy Horowitz and Dan Rhatigan still have a few wrinkles to iron out with the new venue, WYSIWYG continues to provide an outlet for some of the most creative, and often overlooked, writers and performers in the city.

The next WYSIWYG performance will be Scandalous! True! Confessions!!! - You Heard it Here First on April 18th at the Bowery Poetry Club.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Review - The Most Happy Fella (New York City Opera)

Stage Buzz Review by Jere Williams

So last week I caught the opening night of the New York City Opera’s current production of the 1956 Frank Loesser musical The Most Happy Fella at the New York State Theatre up at Lincoln Center. As you are probably aware, this production marks the return to the New York stage of actor Paul Sorvino in the role of Tony.

This is the story of Tony, a vintner in 1930’s California, whose encounter with a diner waitress he calls Rosabella leads to a correspondence courtship and eventually their marriage. Problems arise when Rosabella realizes that instead of his own, Tony has sent a photo of his young, sexy ranch foreman Joe. How the ramifications of this play out is the stuff of the show.

I was very excited to see this production because this musical is rarely produced at all, much less with the huge, full orchestra that the NYCO provides for all its productions. And there’s no better way to experience a classic musical for the first time.

Paul Sorvino is really an ideal Tony in most respects. He certainly has a big enough voice to sing this difficult role and the stage presence to command such a large space. He’s also, as evidenced by his bio in the program, so steeped in Italiana that the accent and manner of this immigrant character seem to issue from his very pores. The only problem is that Sorvino is way too robust and energetic for a character that every other person on stage constantly refers to as being old and feeble. The age difference between Tony and his Rosabella is a major factor in the drama here and, while Sorvino may actually be age appropriate, it’s still difficult to see what all the fuss is about.

Lisa Vroman, a longtime Christine Daae a little further downtown at Phantom of the Opera, delivers a beautifully sung Rosabella. This is a challenging role for any actress. While she’s not the title character, it is Rosabella whose actions drive the slender plot and Vroman does an excellent job of keeping the audience interested in and focused on her desperate, lonely character and rooting for her to find some measure of happiness.

Ranch foreman Joe, the physical embodiment of hot, sweaty sex in musical theatre, is portrayed here by Ivan Hernandez. To be honest, there’s really not a whole lot to this character, but Hernandez does a perfectly serviceable job while also remaining fully clothed throughout. It was Hernandez who was most slighted by the cavernous State Theatre. When sex appeal is the main stock-in-trade of your character, it’s hard to evoke a physical response in an audience, some of whom are 6 blocks away. But he does well by his big ballad, the famous “Joey, Joey, Joey.”
Comic relief is handled by John Scherer and Leah Hocking as Herman and Cleo, a somewhat awkward ranch hand and a sardonic friend of Rosabella’s who find an unlikely simpatico when Cleo arrives at the ranch to keep her friend company. Both are excellent and funny and present well-rounded characters within the confines of their limited roles. Their story doesn’t really impact anything else that happens, but that’s very typical of mid-century musical theatre; they’re the comic duo and merely a sideline from the actual plot.

Does this show have problems? Sure…the first act seems VERY ballad heavy and director Phillip Wm. McKinley doesn’t really do anything to keep the pace up and moving. Consequently, the second act really seems like an entirely different show. It’s here that the Herman/Cleo comedy stuff comes in to take some of the weight of the central Tony/Rosabella story and here that the pacing really picks up and moves the show along.

Not much can be done about the size of the State Theatre. From my seat, very high up and far back in the Fourth Ring, it was impossible to see facial expressions clearly. However, the sound design for this show (by Abe Jacob) is a major improvement over the last production I saw in this space, NYCO’s last Sweeney Todd, two seasons ago. While I couldn’t quite make out faces, I could hear everything perfectly, making the ubiquitous super-titles all but unnecessary. Go see this production if you have a chance. You’re not soon likely to have the opportunity to drink in this lush score as played by such a full orchestra of this caliber. This alone is enough to make this Most Happy Fella an event. But there’s also a bonus…it’s a damn fine production up on the stage – as well as in the pit.

Book, Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Directed by Philip Wm. McKinley

New York State Theater
Lincoln Center
New York City Opera

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Review - Temple (Bridge Club Productions)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Tim Aumiller’s vision of the future of America will be disturbing to nearly everyone. To those who are already feeling left behind as their country lurches to the right, his America will be as frightening as 1930s Berlin. To those who see America as on the right track and finally returning to the faith that made it great, his vision of an oppressed minority that fights back by targeting the very halls of power will fuel their fears of anarchy and terrorism.

Temple is set in Washington, DC in the near future, not long after the passage of the Samuel Laws which place draconian punishments on homosexuals and their families. Gays and lesbians lose their liberty, get listed on a sexual deviancy database, are forced into therapy, their parents are sterilized - all for their own good and the good of the country, of course. Not surprisingly, some people choose to fight back.

Temple takes place immediately after a coordinated attack on the Supreme Court by a group of gay militants, or atheist militants as they are called by the media - after all, to the religious extremists running the country, gays and atheists are pretty much the same thing.
Foul-mouthed Russ (Shannon Michael Wamser) is first to arrive at the militants’ hideout, followed by timid Walt (Tom Macy) and his mentally-challenged sister Brenda (Lesley Miller). Russ was part of the group that planted explosives in the Supreme Court building; Walt helped the group gain access. Both are former lovers of Jon, the leader of the cell.

They are eventually joined by Jon (David Rudd), his wounded lover Remy (Tom Baran), Suzanne (Audrey Amey) a militant lesbian driven to fight after her lover left her to return to a ‘normal’ life, and Kent (Joshua Seidner), a straight drug-addicted munitions expert. As they wait for rescue from higher-ups in the resistance, they fight, discuss ideology and worry that the call won’t come before the police do.

This was a decent production of a interesting piece of political theater. Will it be everyone’s cup of tea? Clearly not. In fact, the audience is likely to be very self-selecting, preaching to the choir as the play does. But it asks some important questions. Are we doing enough to make sure that this vision of America doesn’t come to pass? What would you do in the same situation? Can a post-9/11 audience empathize with a group of terrorists and if so, what does it say about our moral relativism? As is the problem with many plays that deal with weighty concepts, the characters frequently engage in philosophical debates that while interesting, don’t advance the story. At times, this makes the show feel a bit like a sermon, rather than a play. Fortunately, Aumiller tends to relegate it to certain characters.

The cast of Temple was generally good. Macy’s Walt was frightened, yet fiercely protective of his sister, conflicted about his involvement with the uprising, yet completely enthralled by the charismatic Jon. Macy was very believable playing these opposing aspects of Walt’s personality. Lesley Miller did a marvelous job as Brenda, who tended to view her world in terms of people she knew, or didn’t, and sayings that her mother taught her. Seidner’s turn as Kent was astounding, both in terms of the physical demands of playing a speed freak and of having to spew long strings of nonsensical dialogue. As Suzanne, Audrey Amey did a good job, but playing the most level-headed member of the group didn’t give her as many opportunities to take chances with her character.

The final three roles were a bit disappointing. Shannon Michael Wamser’s Russ was a one-note character. Russ is loud, angry and very physical, all of which Wamser did well, but there’s not much to the character beyond that. Tom Baran’s Remy is also under-developed, though it’s hard to be a well-rounded character when you spend much of the play unconscious with gut wound. Baran showed his talent during an entirely too authentic-looking death scene. It was very uncomfortable and very effective. Finally, there was Jon, the charismatic man who recruited this group of friends and former lovers. David Rudd certainly had the right look and voice for the role. He delivered his lines with a power and fervor of one who believes he is on a crusade. But there wasn’t an emotional connection between him and the other characters. Jon as played by Rudd would certainly make a powerful debater, but he would never be a man that others would risk so much for.

Director Greg Foro did a capable job of directing. Set designer Marc Janowitz did what he could with the severely limited space at Manhattan Theatre Source, and were this not such a kinetic show, the claustrophobic space would have worked remarkably well. As it was, the action threatened to spill over onto the laps of the front row. Being that close, and worrying about being unintentionally incorporated into the action, made it difficult to be completely absorbed into the play.

While this was an uneven production, Aumiller should be congratulated on his challenging play.

Written by Tim Aumiller
Directed by Greg Foro

Bridge Club Productions
Manhattan Theatre Source

Closed March 11, 2006