Tuesday, November 21, 2023

SCENE PARTNERS - It's Never Too Late, or Is It?

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

“The past isn’t as frightening with one foot in the present.” So says a character in Scene Partners, the new comedy-drama by John J. Caswell, Jr., now at the Vineyard Theatre.

The year is 1985. Following the long-awaited passing of her abusive husband (though she refers to him in far more colorful terms), 75 year-old Meryl Kowalski (Dianne Wiest) is at last celebrating her independence. Determined to become an internationally famous film star, she heads for Hollywood and the promise of new beginning. Left behind is her former home, her drug-addicted daughter, and a lifetime of painful memories.

After a train ride to Los Angeles, with a possible detour through Russia, Meryl arrives at her destination. Determined to no longer be ignored, and thanks to some fast talking, iron determination and a loaded gun, she soon signs with an agent. From there, it’s a quick step to an acting class where she immediately bonds with the instructor, one Hugo Lockerby (Josh Hamilton). Hugo seeing in Meryl a brilliant untapped potential.

                                          Dianne Wiest in Scene Partners. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

While she is seemingly on her way and set to become a star via a documentary about her life, Meryl’s past keeps trying to intrude in her new existence. Including appearances by her late husband, who possesses the bodies of those around her. His purpose, to let Meryl know she will never be free of him. Meryl also finds herself guided by the essence of her long-lost father; who once tried to make it in show business, but failed.  His attempts to do so cost him his family and for Meryl, eliminated any possibility of a happy childhood.

Scene Partners offers a lot to unpack. On one level, it focuses on how it’s never too late to follow through on your dreams. With Meryl intent on grabbing as much as can from life in the time she has left. Also stressed is the importance of being able to come to terms with the past. As well as one's subsequent actions or inactions therein.

Also explored is the need to remove oneself from those who threaten to consume you via their own self-destructive natures. Several of these points explored during a long overdue heart to heart talk between Meryl and her younger half-sister, and former actress, Charlize (Johanna Day).

                                            Josh Hamilton in Scene Partners. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

The play also offers a hilarious send-up of the world of show business. Particularly thanks to Hamilton's wonderfully over-the-top portrayal of a temperamental acting guru. He of multiple accents, with a habit of throwing cans of Diet Coke whenever he becomes angry. The scene where Meryl gets herself an agent also calls to mind similar, though not so outrageous stories, recounted in Hollywood lore from time to time.

However as things progress, one starts to wonder how much of the story is only taking place in Meryl's mind. As she has begun to show signs of a medical condition which may be warping her perceptions of reality. This not only adds an extra layer of context to the play, but also increases Meryl urgency to realize her goals. It’s a testament to the script that just when you think you’ve figured out what’s actually happening, the ground shifts just enough to make one question these assumptions. 

                              (L-R) Dianne Wiest and Johanna Day in Scene Partners. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Wiest gives a fantastic performance as a woman determined to make it in a business where so many others have failed. Including several in her own family. The way she juggles her character's different emotional situations - ones ranging from anger and determination to happiness and introspection - comes across very, very well. All the while never making Meryl an object of ridicule.

It must also be pointed out that this is not a perfect show. The use of various video clips and TV monitors, coupled with possible non-linear sequences, can at times feel rather disjointed. In addition, the opening and closing scenes of the play feel somewhat dragged out. Also a scene where Meryl recounts her life story, as told via several other cast members, would have worked better if shortened somewhat.

The cast, many of whom play multiple rules, all do strong work here. Rachel Chavkin’s direction, like the play itself, moves in fits and starts.

(L-R) Dianne Wiest and Eric Berryman in Scene Partners. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Part tale of rebirth and new beginnings, part performance/multi-media piece, “Scene Partners” leaves one with much to ponder. Thanks to an interesting idea and a standout turn by Wiest.

Featuring: Eric Berryman (Chuck + Others), Johanna Day (Charlize), Josh Hamilton (Hugo + Others), Carmen M. Herlihy (Cassie + Others), Kristen Sieh (Pauline + Others), Dianne Wiest (Meryl Kowalski).

Scene Partners

A New Play by John J. Caswell, Jr.

Scenic Design: Riccardo Hernández

Costume Design: Brenda Abbandandolo

Lighting Design: Alan C. Edwards

Sound Design: Leah Gelpe

Video & Projection Design: David Bengali

Hair, Wig & Makeup Design: Leah Loukas

Props Supervisor: Andrew Diaz

Video Producer: Anne Troup

Fight Choreographer: J. David Brimmer

Tapestry Design: Patricia Marjorie

Music Director: Nehemiah Luckett

Choral Arranger: Orion Johnstone

Dialect Coach: Beth McGuire

Directed by Rachel Chavkin


Vineyard Theatre

108 East 15th Street

Tickets: 212-353-0303 or https://Vineyardtheatre.org/shows/scene-partners

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, no intermission

Closes: December 17, 2023


Friday, September 22, 2023

The Writing on the Stall - Potty Humor of the Highest Caliber

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photo by Arin Sang-Urai

Caitlin Cook provides an evening of bathroom humor and touching truth in her show The Writing on the Stall, currently running at the SoHo Playhouse.  Those familiar with Ms. Cook's Tik Tok have already seen and heard some of her humorous songs based on bathroom graffiti, and the songs in this show do not disappoint.  However the true treat is her ability to create an intimate, touching and insightful evening of theatre around the concept.

Ably directed by A. J. Holmes, Ms. Cook weaves together a history of graffiti, the human need for connection, and confessional truths about the hardest days in her life.  Using sight gags, audience interaction, and some terrific slideshows, The Writing on the Stall is a captivating piece of theater, and one that manages to be self-reflective, without being overly self-indulgent.

The Writing on the Stall
Written and Performed by Caitlin Cook
Directed by A. J. Holmes
Produced by Ali Gordon
Creative Consulting: Chase Brantley, Amanda Faye Martin, David Goldsmith

SoHo Playhouse
15 Vandam Street
Through September 23

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Back to the Future: The Musical - An Unnecessary Trip

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

The Broadway graveyard is filled with musical efforts that sprang from movies. Groundhog Day, Mrs. Doubtfire, Rocky and Pretty Woman among some of the more recent internees. While it’s too early to consign Back to the Future: The Musical, based on the hit 1985 film of the same name, to the same fate, it may soon be headed in that direction. This despite some pretty strong special effects. As well as a very appealing lead performance.

It’s 1985 in Hill Valley, California and high school student Marty McFly (Casey Likes), whose rock-n-roll band just failed their latest audition, is terrified of ending up like his family. His mother Lorraine (Liana Hunt) is an alcoholic; his older brother and sister (Daryl Tofa, Amber Ardolino) have lives on the fast track to nowhere; and his father George (Hugh Coles) is a beaten-down milquetoast who is terrified of confrontation. George is also is constantly harassed by his former high school nemesis Biff Tannen (Nathaniel Hackman), who is now his supervisor at work.

(L-R) Roger Bart and Casey Likes in Back to the Future: The Musical.  Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman (2023)

One evening Marty’s friend Doc Brown (Roger Bart), the town crackpot, announces he has invented a time machine and wants Mary to document an upcoming test run. Doc intends to use the machine himself, which he has built inside a DeLorean. However before he can start on his journey, Doc collapses due to exposure to plutonium. The element used to power the vehicle. In a panic, Marty jumps into the DeLorean to go for help, but once the car reaches 88 miles an hour, the time circuits activate and send Marty thirty years in the past.

Shortly after his arrival in 1955 Hill Valley, and while searching for the Doc Brown of that time, Marty encounters his parents as teenagers. He also inadvertently interferes with their first meeting. One which initially kindled their romantic feelings for each other. Now before he can attempt to return to his own time, Marty has to get his parents to fall in love. Otherwise, neither he nor his siblings will ever be born. Matters become even more complicated when Lorraine starts having romantic feeling for Marty. Much to the fury of the overbearing Biff, who sees Lorraine as his personal girlfriend. Even though Lorraine wants nothing to do with him.

(L-R, top row) Victoria Byrd, Jonalyn Saxer, Becca Peterson. (L-R, bottom row) Casey Likes, Liana Hunt in Back to the Future: The Musical.  Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman (2023)

There is certainly enough material here for a stage adaptation. The core idea of the show being how one small event can change the future forever. Tied in with this is the importance of never settling when it comes to what's really important in life. Be it deciding to run for political office or choosing to stand up for someone you care about.

Unfortunately in transferring the story to a new medium, the creative team, which includes Bob Gale as the bookwriter, who also co-wrote the script for the original film, all seem to have forgotten an important step in the process. That being, to make sure the new property is different enough from the original to warrant its creation in the first place. Yet what ends up on stage feels more like a tired retread. With many scenes and dialogue copied almost beat for beat.
It doesn’t help that the creators have also forgotten the “less is more” principle. Specifically as it applies to the characters of Doc Brown and George McFly. 

Roger Bart in Back to the Future: The Musical.  Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman 

Doc, played by the usually reliable Bart, is so over the top in both eras, there’s no real character development or backstory for the audience to latch onto. Here, he fritters to and fro and rarely varies his vocal cadence. Even worse, Bart’s verbal interactions with Likes often mimic the Burns and Schreiber “taxicab” routine. The only time Doc becomes anything more than a caricature is when Bart sings “For the Dreamers”. A quiet ballad which offers a fleeting glimpse behind his fast-talking facade as he realizes that finally, he has a chance to be something more than a laughingstock.

The character of George has similar problems. A hapless sad sack with no confidence whatsoever, Marty must try to teach him to stand up for himself. However George’s laugh, facial tics, hand gestures and efforts to try to follow Marty’s advice are so exaggerated, they quickly become annoying. This is a case of someone trying too hard to be funny and instead becoming painful to watch. As with Doc, George’s portrayal would have worked far better if we were given some history on the character as to why he is the way he is.

Another issue is that the score by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard is not all that memorable. The strongest numbers in the musical ones that were in the original film. Additionally, the first act finale just falls apart, instead of giving the audience a reason to return for act two. One of the few new numbers to really stand out is “Gotta Start Somewhere”, which boasts a very strong performance by Jelani Remy as Goldie Wilson.

Jelani Remy and the cast of Back to the Future: The Musical.  Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman (2023)

Likes does quite well in the lead role, coming across as a beleaguered sort who you don’t mind spending time with. He also looks alternatively terrified and frustrated as he tries to fit into 1955 Hill Valley, while continually trying to dodge Lorraine’s evermore amorous advances. Additionally, he nicely put across all of the songs he is tasked with. Including a killer rendition of “Johnnie B. Goode”. Other good performances include Mikaela Secada as Marty’s girlfriend, Hunt as Lorraine and Remy as both Goldie Wilson and Marvin Berry.

John Rando’s direction is uneven. He’s on point when it comes to the more dramatic moments, but his efforts fall flat when it comes to the comedy. Attempt at which feel awkward, uncomfortable, and continually distract from the stronger elements in the story.

The one especially strong aspect in the show are the special effects, Especially when it comes to having a full-size car appear to travel 88 miles an hour on a Broadway stage. Designer Tim Hatley and the rest of the team also come up with a finale that is superb. Sadly, these final moments don’t make up for all of the pitfalls that have come before. Indeed, it would be great if the DeLorean really did allow one to travel through time. That way, Gale, Rando, et. al., could have gone back to the beginning of the creative process and this time, tried to get it right.

Casey Likes in Back to the Future: The Musical.  Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman (2023)

Featuring: Casey Likes (Marty McFly), Jelani Remy (Goldie Wilson/Marvin Berry), Merritt David Janes (Principal Strickland/Lou Carruthers/Mayor Red Thomas/Sam Baines), Mikaela Secada (Jennifer Parker), Nathaniel Hackman (Biff Tannen), Hugh Coles (George McFly), Daryl Tofa (Dave McFly/Slick), Amber Ardolino (Linda McFly/Stella Baines), Liana Hunt (Lorraine Baines), Roger Bart (Doc Brown), Victoria Byrd (Betty/Pretty Baby Trio), Becca Petersen (Babs/Pretty Baby Trio), Will Branner (3D), Jonalyn Saxer (Clocktower Woman/Pretty Baby Trio), Nick Drake (Reginald (Starlighter #1)), Kevin Curtis (Starlighter #2), Joshua Kenneth Allan Johnson (Starlighter #3)

Ensemble: Amber Ardolino, Will Branner, Victoria Byrd, Brendan Chan, Kevin Curtis, Nick Drake, Marc Heitzman, Merritt David Janes, Hannah Kevitt, JJ Niemann, Becca Peterson, Emma Pittman, Jonalyn Saxer, Mikaela Secada, Daryl Tofa

Back to the Future: The Musical
Book by Bob Gale
Music & Lyrics by Alan Silvestri & Glen Ballard

Based on the Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment film
Written by Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale

Fight Director: Maurice Chan
Wigs, Hair and Make-Up: Campell Young Associates
Musical Supervisor: Vocal & Music Arrangements: Nick Finlow
Music Director: Ted Arthur
Orchestrations: Ethan Popp & Bryan Crook
Dance Arrangements: David Chase
Sound Designer: Gareth Owen
Lighting Designers: Tim Lutkin & Hugh Vanstone
Video Director: Finn Ross
Illusion Designer: Chris Fisher
Choreographer: Chris Bailey
Designer: Tim Hatley
Directed by John Rando

Winter Garden Theatre
1634 Broadway
Tickets; 212-239-6200, www.telecharge.com
Information: www.backtothefuturemusical.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 35 minutes, with one intermission
Open Run

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Camelot - Where ideals and human nature collide

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

Some people will always be resistant to change. Though if said changes are truly worthwhile, one should never stop trying to make them a reality. This is the message at the heart of the 1960 Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical, Camelot. A revival of which is now at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater .

Based on T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” Camelot takes place in a mythical medieval England during the reign of King Arthur (Andrew Burnap). After a long and bitter war with France, the two countries have agreed to a peace treaty. One contingent upon Arthur marrying the French princess Guenevere (Phillipa Soo). Initially against this royal union, Guenevere soon finds herself intrigued by Arthur, who is unlike any royal she’s ever known.

Arthur is rather unique when it comes to royalty, as he is not of noble blood and only ascended the throne after he pulled out a sword embedded in a large stone. A feat thousands of others had tried and failed. Despite feeling ill-suited to his position, and remembering how harshly the kingdom’s knights and others in power have treated the masses, Arthur has a vision of a new era. One where knights are defenders of justice, honor, and chivalry. Though it soon becomes apparent many of those who formerly enjoyed almost unlimited power, and the pleasures it afforded, are not happy with these new guidelines.

Jordon Donica, Phillipa Soo (background), Andrew Burnap and the company in Lincoln Center Theater's production of CAMELOT. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Other potential trouble appears in the form of Lancelot du Lac (Jordon Donica); a Frenchman of great courage, virtue, and strength. Something he continually reminds himself, and everybody else. Lancelot’s greatest desire is to become a knight in the service of King Arthur. While he quickly succeeds in this, his overwhelming arrogance alienates him from the rest of the knights. At the same time, Guenevere finds herself becoming attracted to this new arrival. An attraction which quickly becomes mutual and threatens the stability of the kingdom.

Further danger arrives thanks to Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred (Taylor Trensch). Bitter and angry at his father, Mordred is determined to destroy the King and the legacy he had hoped to create.

Camelot looks at the different sides of human nature while showing how the baser elements of humanity often impede moral progress. As continually pointed out, most people often have to be forced to accept something new, whether it is the better treatment of women, or that the coach carrying a royal bride may now stop at the top of a bottom of a hill rather than the top. Also explored is the danger of implementing change too quickly. For such upheaval may not only threaten those who would do anything to maintain the status quo, but it can also destroy closely held traditions many have lived by all their lives. Yet through it all is the message that it is possible for us to become better. Plus even if we do not achieve everything we hoped, the next generation will be able to build on what this one has begun.

Phillipa Soo, Andrew Burnap, Dakin Matthews, Jordan Donica, and company in Lincoln Center Theater's production of CAMELOT.Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.

The Lerner and Loewe score, backed here by a 30-piece orchestra, never fails to soar. Highlights include the whimsical title tune, the haunting “If Ever I Would Leave You,” and the comic numbers “The Lusty Month of May,” and “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight?” Also a standout is “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”. A culmination of a verbal fencing match between Arthur and Guenevere, the song illuminates the importance of communication between partners and the danger from a lack thereof.

The only real weak point is the show’s revised book by Aaron Sorkin. While Sorkin has attempted to make the original Learner text more palatable to today’s audiences, some of his efforts are rather questionable. Such as making Arthur’s longtime adviser Merlyn (Dakin Matthews) and Mordred’s mother Morgan Le Fey (Marliee Talkington) scientists instead of wizards. This removal of the magical element from the story makes the work feel a bit more pedestrian.

Andrew Burnap as Arthur in Lincoln Center Theater's production of CAMELOT. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Soo makes a fine Guenevere. A woman with a strong inner core who projects a sense of responsibility, passion, and a desire for a better world. Burnap works well as Arthur. A man initially unsure of himself, we see him grow into both the office and character of King during the course of the production.

Donica makes a powerful as Lancelot. His first number (“C’est Moi”) drips with irony as he sings about virtue and honor, even though he falls for a married woman. His character one you initially dislike for his arrogance, yet eventually come to understand. Trensch makes a strong villain as Mordred, and Matthews is good in the comedic yet wise roles of Merlyn and Pellinore.

Phillipa Soo (center) and company in Lincoln Center Theater's production of CAMELOT. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.jpg

Bartlett Shers’s direction makes effective use of the vast playing space, while Michael Yeargan’s set, coupled with 59 Productions’ projection work, nicely enhances the story.

Camelot is not perfect, but with a strong message, an appealing cast, and a wonderful score, it makes for quite a fulfilling experience.

Featuring: Anthony Michael Lopez (Sir Dinadan), Danny Wolohan (Sir Lionel), Fergie Philippe (Sir Sagramore), Dakin Matthews (Merlyn, Pellinore), Andrew Burnap (Arthur), Phillipa Soo (Guenevere), Holly Gould, James Romney (Pages), Jordan Donica (Lancelot du Lac), Paul Whitty (Dap), Ann Sanders (Clarius), Tesia Kwarteng (Lady Catharine). Delphi Borich (Lady Sybil), Taylor Trensch (Mordred), Marilee Talkington (Morgan Le Fey). Camden McKinnon (Tom of Warwick)

Ensemble: Delphi Borich, Matías De La Flor, Ṣọla Fadiran, Christian Mark Gibbs, Holly Gould, Edwin Joseph, Tesia Kwarteng, Ann Sanders, Britney Nicole Simpson, Frank Viveros, Paul Whitty


Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

Music by Frederick Loewe

Book by Aaron Sorkin

Based on the original book by Alan Jay Lerner

Based on "The Once and Future King" by T.H. White

Sets: Michael Yeargan

Costumes: Jennifer Moeller

Lighting: Lap Chi Chu

Sound: Marc Salzberg & Beth Lake

Projections: 59 Productions

Hair & Wigs: Cookie Jordan

Fight Director: B.H. Barry

Vocal & Dialect Coach: Kate Wilson

Orchestrations: Robert Russell Bennett & Philip J. Lang

Dance & Choral Arrangements; Trude Rittmann

Music Direction: Kimberly Grigsby

Choreography: Bryon Easley

Directed by: Bartlett Sher


Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center Theater

150 West 65th Street

Tickets: 212-239-6200 or www.ticketmaster.com

Information: www.camelotbway.com

Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes, one intermission

Open run

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Shucked - A down-home treat

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

Shucked, the new musical comedy at Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre has far too many corn-related puns, references, and innuendos to count. It’s also corn-poppingly funny.

The musical offers a retelling of a Cob County legend. Cob County was founded about 500 years ago when a band of Pilgrims, who didn’t agree with the Puritan way of doing things, were looking for a place to call their own. Which they found in “miles of unclaimed, Non-Native American owned land.” Mistrustful of outsiders, they planted rows of corn that would grow as “high as an elephant’s eye” and completely surround the town to keep its inhabitants safe from those who had no business being there. This plan worked for generations, with corn and all its variations – including moonshine – becoming their major food source and economic engine. Until the day the corn began to die.

With no one able to understand why this is happening, local farmer Maizy (Caroline Innerbichler), feels they must seek help from the outside world. However, most of her neighbors and friends, including Maizy’s beau, Beau (Andrew Durand) who she is about to marry, reject the idea out of hand.

                              The cast of Shucked. Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman

Determined not to see her beloved farm, crops and home all dry up and blow away, and with some encouragement from her cousin Lulu (Alex Newell), a resolute Maizy sets out on her journey. Eventually she reaches Tampa , Florida , where she stumbles upon a self-proclaimed “corn doctor” named Gordy (John Behlmann).

Gordy is actually a failed conman, disowned by his family due to his inability in the trade. At first, Gordy has no desire to help Maizy. Until the stones in the antique bracelet she wears catches his eye. After initially confirming the stones value, and how abundant they are in Cob County , Gordy assures Maizy he can fix their corn problem. It’s not long before complications arise when Gordy runs afoul of Lulu. A person who pretty much has a built in radar when it comes to liars; even as she begins to feel an attraction for this outsider Maizy has brought into their midst. Meanwhile Maizy finds herself torn between her love for Beau and her growing feelings towards Gordy

                         Alex Newell in Shucked. Photos by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman

For all its corn-spun humor – not surprising considering bookwriter Robert Horn’s first kernel of an idea for this show came from the television series “Hee-Haw” – at its core, Shucked stresses the importance of honesty, respect, and family. Family in this case referring not only to those related by blood, but those who are part of an extended community, all of whom depend on each other. There’s also the importance of not being afraid to consider something new, just because it may be different from what has gone before. A point illustrated in the ballad “Walls,” as beautifully sung by Innerbichler. This early number also establishes the show as something more than an elongated comedy sketch. Though to be fair, just about every third line in the show ends in a quip, pun or homily guaranteed to make the audience laugh, groan or nod in agreement. Many of these moments coming from Beau, his brother Peanut (Kevin Cahoon), and the show’s Storytellers (Ashley D. Kelley and Grey Henson).

Shucked isn’t so much a message show as a show with a message; and there is an important difference. That being the musical, which also has passing references to climate change and the current political environment, doesn’t repeatedly hit you over the head with what it wants to say. Rather, it tells a story with a few moral lessons embedded therein and leaves the audience to derive from it what they will.

                              The cast of Shucked. Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman

The score by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally is excellent, with highlights ranging from the over-the-top opening sequence “Corn,” to the comic “Bad.” There’s also the soulful “OK,” put forth by Durand; the rousing “Best Man Wins;” and the fantastic “Independently Owned.” That last, a powerful blues number by Newell, quite literally stops the show in its tracks and garners the performer a well-deserved standing ovation.

Innerbichler does a wonderful job as Maizy, a strong-willed though occasionally naive sort determined to save the town and get the respect she deserves. Durand works well as Beau, an earnest if somewhat stereotypical hayseed type. Behlmann is fine as Gordy, who learns there’s more to life than coming out on top. Newell is a wonder as Lulu. A cautious but caring cynic who learns to open herself up to the unexpected. Indeed, by the show’s end, all of the characters are significantly changed due to what they’ve experienced.

                The cast of Shucked. Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman

Jack O’Brien’s direction keeps the show moving nicely while never going off the rails into either parody or preaching. Sarah O’Gleby’s choreographic work is enjoyable from start to finish. Scott Pask’s set, basically a huge barn with all the requisite trimmings, nicely fits the show’s atmosphere. Also deserving of credit is Jason Howland’s excellent orchestrations.

Shucked offers jokes, music, a love quadrangle, and a bit of gentle moralizing. Most of all, it’s a lot of fun.

Featuring: John Behlmann (Gordy), Kevin Cahoon (Peanut), Andrew Durand (Beau), Grey Henson (Storyteller 2), Caroline Innerbichler (Maizy), Ashley D. Kelley (Storyteller 1), Alex Newell (Lulu).

Ensemble: Jimmy Brewer, Audrey Cardwell, Dwayne Clark, Rheaume Crenshaw, Jaygee Macpugay, Scott Stangland, Yasmeen Sulieman, Quinn Vanantwerp


Book by Robert Horn

Music &  Lyrics by Brandy Clark & Shane McAnally

Scenic Design: Scott Pask

Costume Design: Tilly Grimes

Lighting Design: Japhy Weideman

Sound Design: John Shivers

Wig Design: Mia Neal

Music Supervision, Music Direction, Orchestrations and Arrangements: Jason Howland

Choreographed by Sarah O’Gleby

Directed by Jack O’Brien


Nederlander Theatre

208 West 41st Street

Tickets: 212-239-6200 or www.ticketmaster.com

Info: www.ShuckedMusical.com

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes, one intermission

Open run


Monday, April 17, 2023

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart - A Wondrous Journey of the Soul

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

The aim of immersive theatre is to have the audience feel they’re actually a part of the story. So it is with the National Theatre of Scotland’s funny, poignant, and very involving The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. A revival of which is now at The Club Car at the McKittrick Hotel.

It's a snowy December 21, 2010 , the time of the winter solstice – said snow gleefully provided on cue by the audience – and 28 year-old postgraduate student Prudencia Hart (Charlene Boyd), is on her way to a conference in the Scottish town of Kelso . Something of an introvert, Prudencia has followed in her father’s footsteps of collecting. Where her dad collected books, Prudencia is a collector of songs. In particular, Scottish Border Ballads, of which she has become something of an authority.

After the conference, Prudencia and the other speakers find themselves stranded by the heavy snowfall. With nowhere else to go, Prudencia and her adversarial colleague Dr. Colin Syme (Ewan Black) take shelter in a local pub, where it's karaoke night. Feeling out of her depth, Prudencia heads into the cold snowy night looking for the bed and breakfast Colin had just booked. Unfamiliar with the area, she soon finds herself lost in the gigantic whiteout. Until a fellow named Nick (Gavin Jon Wright) appears and offers her aid.

      Charlene Boyd in "The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart".  Photo Credit: Lena Nicholson
Aside from the harsh weather, there’s another reason one shouldn't be outside on the winter solstice. According to legend, it’s the one time of year when the barriers between our world and hell weaken, allowing the Devil to seek unsuspecting souls to take to the underworld. Which is exactly what befalls Prudencia.
While Prudencia at first refuses to believe her fate, she soon realizes Nick is indeed the Devil in human form, and intends to keep her prisoner for eternity. Prudencia’s protests, however, vanish when she beholds her gilded cage. A gigantic library that contains “every book that’s ever been.” At first Prudencia’s new life seems a dream come true. Until she realizes the truth about what being in hell really means.
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart explores the universal pain of loneliness. This includes Prudencia, who has buried herself in her work; Colin, whose glib banter hides a heartfelt secret; and Nick who, despite all the power he commands, must always be apart from everyone. Yet as made clear, only when one breaks down the walls they’ve built can they let others in. Coupled with this is the importance of not looking down on what you don’t care about. A failing of Nick for his attitude toward mortals in general. As well as Prudencia for her disdain towards karaoke and so-called “new age” methods, such as rap, of telling stories. Or how she regards anyone who doesn't care about the things she does.

        Charlene Boyd in "The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart".  Photo Credit: Lena Nicholson
The show also notes that though work can be one’s passion, it shouldn’t be the total sum of an existence. Something Prudencia learns after untold years of research in Nick’s library as she attempts to prove her composition theories. Her joy at finally doing so tempered by the realization no one will ever see the results.
A great asset of the production is its use of language. The characters continually switching from prose to poetry, often with rhyming couplets. While quite funny throughout, it also leads to some very touching moments between Prudencia and Nick as she tries to bridge the gap between them. Their encounters causing both to change in a way neither expected. For Prudencia’s “undoing” is not so much a fall or humiliation, but rather a realization of what it is to be mortal, with a limited time on this earth. An awareness also visible in the change of Prudencia’s outward appearance over the course of the show.
The production's intricate staging is wonderfully executed. The actors at times right next to, or on top of the tables where the audience is seated. They also sometimes use said audience members as props for the story. Including a motorcycle. By the second act, everyone is so totally invested in what's unfolding, they sing and clap with unbridled enthusiasm whenever prompted. The space itself also gives off a charming old world feel. 

                 Gavin Jon Wright and Charlene Boyd in "The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart". 
                                                     Photo Credit: Lena Nicholson
The cast, many who play multiple roles, feels like a well-oiled machine. Boyd is perfect as Prudencia and takes her character through a complete metamorphosis as she becomes more understanding of the world and those in it. Black projects a strong, if somewhat stereotypical macho air as Colin. Who proves to be far more dependable than first given credit. Wright is exceptionally good as Nick. An initially amicable sort with a quiet, smoldering aura, but a deadly foe when crossed. Charlie West works well as one of Nick’s other forms while Natali McCleary cuts a haunting figure as a mysterious woman Prudencia encounters in the snow. 
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart tells a stirring tale of love, loss, loneliness and tells it oh so very well.
Featuring: Ewan Black, Charlene Boyd, Natali McCleary, Charlie West, Gavin Jon Wright
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
Co-created by David Greig writer & Wils Wilson (director)
Designer: Georgia McGuinness
Music Director and Composer: Alasdair Macrae
Movement Director: Janice Parker
Associate Movement Director: Jack Webb
Associate Director (Scotland): Andrea Cabrera Luna

Associate Director (U.S.): Hunter Bird

Producer for Double M Arts & Events: Neil Murray and Michael Mushalla

Casting Director: Laura Donnelly CDG

Production Manager: Craig Fleming

Costume Supervisor: Alisa Munro

Company Stage Manager: Millie Hannah Jones

Assistant Stage Manager: Scott Ringan
The Club Car at The McKittrick Hotel
542 West 27th Street
Tickets: www.mckittrickhotel.com
Running Time: Two hours, 30 minutes, one intermission
Closes: April 30. 2023