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Spring 2015 Openings – “The Heidi Chronicles” and “Iowa”

After last year’s Tony controversy involving an even greater lack of representation of women in theatre than usual, New York City has really stepped up this season with plays written by, directed by, or starring women in major roles. Both The Heidi Chronicles, playing on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre, and Iowa, a new work that premiered this week at Playwrights Horizons, follow women’s narratives and their personal and societal connections.

The Heidi Chronicles, written by the late and great Wendy Wasserstein, follows Heidi (a stunning Elisabeth Moss) from her adolescence through adulthood as she grapples with her feminist ideals, pursues a career in studying women artists, and maintains relationships with her friends Susan (Ali Ahn) and Peter (Bryce Pinkham), and her ex-boyfriend Scoop (Jason Biggs). Filled with pop culture references, from Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” to John Lennon’s death, The Heidi Chronicles does not shy away from the cultural milestones experienced by the boomer generation–nor does it demure from honest discussions about feminism (which is now often thought of as a dirty word), an how it has affected Heidi’s life. Still, the play’s content remains as poignant and fresh as it was when it premiered twenty-six years ago. I credit that to Wasserstein’s emotionally rich characters, which have been brilliantly brought to life by the cast and Pam MacKinnon’s direction. Elisabeth Moss brings a constant inner life with Heidi, while Bryce Pinkham wins over the audience with his disarming charm (begin the Tony watch now). And though Heidi’s conflicts still resonate today, I almost wish they didn’t.

How to show your old play’s still got it: cast selfies. (Source: Broadway.com)

The Heidi Chronicles originally had its off-Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizons, which is now presenting Iowa, a new musical play written by Jenny Schwartz and Todd Almond. Iowa follows Becca (Jill Shackner), a teenage girl who’s dealing with her crush on her math teacher (Lee Sellars), her not-so-great poetry, and the fact that her mother Sandy (Karyn Quackenbush) is marrying her online boyfriend and moving the two of them to Iowa. That’s about as much plot as I can give you, as Iowa is an absurdist romp that includes Becca’s best friend Amanda’s (Carolina Sanchez) issues with body images and popularity, Sandy’s fixation with the internet and ponies, and a pony actually coming on stage with a musical number of his own.

Madonna and Child. (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

Iowa was disappointing for a number of reasons. The first was its billing as a “musical play.” While that was an accurate description of the show’s format, it allows for a confusing mishmash of songs. In some ways it’s a proper musical, primarily with, “I Don’t Know,” song by Becca and her mother. Their duet clearly delineated the characters’ conflicts and provided insight into their thoughts and dysfunctionally functional relationship. Sandy’s solo “Fun!” especially delved deep into her neuroses, which was both a terror and a delight. Meanwhile, other numbers, like the Amanda’s observations about cheerleaders and the pony’s thoughts about women (simply titled “Cheerleaders” and “Ponies,” respectively), were entertaining, but seemed to exist more in the realm of surreal sketch comedy. (The surreal nature of the show definitely disconnected with some theatergoers, as a few audience members walked out during the performance I attended.) The final blow for me was the show’s closing number, a song so earnest and hopeful that it completely underwrote everything that had preceded it. While I could see how Iowa actually wanted to disconnect from its audience through its subversive content, the results still left me a little too cold. Tickets and more information for The Heidi Chronicles and Iowa can be found here and here.

“Big Love” Romances Audiences @ Signature Theatre

If you thought graphic violence, insightful prose, and Jason Mraz covers can’t exist in the same play, think again. Big Love, now playing at Signature Theatre, has all of the aboveand still manages to make room for tomato throwing and trampolines.

biglove1
“Not Getting Married Today.”

Still, like many plays, Big Love is centered on a wedding—fifty of them, to be precise. Lydia (Rebecca Naomi Jones) and her forty-nine sisters have been pledged by their father to marry their cousins. Wisely, playwright Charles Mee simplifies the onstage number of runaway brides, focusing on Lydia and her sisters, strong-willed Thyona (Stacey Sargeant) and sweet Olympia (Libby Winters). Clad in stained and tattered wedding dresses, each sister has a different point of view on men. Thyona can’t stand them, Olivia loves them, and Lydia falls somewhere in between. But all three women do not want to be forced into marriage, and have left Greece for Italy. There they hope to find a haven in the home of Piero (Christopher Innvar), as his mother Bella (Lynn Cohen) takes pity on the girls’ plight. But the sisters are not alone for along, when the wannabe grooms arrive–repelling from helicopters, no less.

biglove4
The boys are back in town.

The men, like the women, are represented by only three brothers. Constantine (Ryan-James Hatanaka) is their leader, and is determined to fulfill their family’s marriage contract. His brothers Oed (Emmanuel Brown) and Nikos (Bobby Steggert) are in full support, especially since Nikos has feelings for Lydia. As the brides and grooms fight for and against the wedding, Lydia and Nikos form a dangerous connection across enemy lines.

biglove2
I’d ship it.

Inspired by Aeschylus’ play The Danaids, Big Love has some trappings of ancient Greek drama. There’s enough spectacle to make Aristotle proud, with a bed of flowers hanging from the theater’s ceiling, wall-to-wall projections, and musical numbers that include songs by Leslie Gore and Michael Jackson. (The musical numbers were also a wonderful way to remind us why we love to see Bobby Steggert and Rebecca Naomi Jones in Broadway musicals.) But the play has a style and sensibility that is unique to Charles Mee, with dialogue that is closer to poetry than prose.* This exchange between Nikos and Lydia shows the verse-like quality of the dialogue:

NIKOS

I want a love really that’s all-consuming
that consumes my whole life

LYDIA

Sometimes people don’t want to fall in love.
Because when you love someone
it’s too late to set conditions.
You can’t say
I’ll love you if you do this
or I’ll love you if you change that
because you can’t help yourself
and then you have to live
with whoever it is you fall in love with
however they are
and just put up with the difficulties you’ve made for yourself
because true love has no conditions.
That’s why it’s so awful to fall in love.

Mee tackles many challenging concepts at once: the nature of romantic love, of course, is prominent in Big Love, but there’s also themes of justice and forgiveness, especially in the play’s powerful final scene. Other memorable moments involve the brides and grooms proclaiming their issues with gender roles and how they relate to them, repeatedly throwing themselves to the floor. The violence of their careening and crashing bodies physicalizes their conflicting expectations and desires—and it’s all at once engaging and shocking.

biglove3
Girls vs. Boys. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Despite all of its disparate elements, Big Love succeeds in telling a story about love trying to conquer all.

“Big Love” runs until March 15th. For more information, click here.

*If you are interested in reading more of Charles Mee’s work, you’re in luck. All of his plays are available for reading (and performing!) on his website here.

“Hank V” is a Victory for Shakespeare Lovers and Newbies Alike

We’ve been huge fans of Three Day Hangover‘s boozy adaptations of Shakespearean classics, with a little Chekhov thrown in the mix, ever since The Hamlet Project debuted two years ago.  Seriously… we wrote them a love letter. This is a theater company that insures an extraordinarily fun night while modernizing and honoring the play text with great joy and success than your average Shakespeare production. Now they’re closing off the 2014-15 season with Hank V, their first history play.

Adapted by Lori Wolter Hudson and Beth Gardiner, Hank V reworks Henry V using only two characters: Henry–or Hank (Three Day Hangover co-founder David Hudson)– and Falstaff (Christopher Ryan Grant), possibly the most famous comedic character in literary history. Henry V is the final play in a tetralogy that begins with the usurpation of Richard II at the hands of Henry IV, our Henry’s father. Henry V is an unlikely king (he’s a drunk and fun-loving youth in the middle plays) but ends the saga as one of the most heroic and beloved monarchs in English history. If you haven’t read a lick of Shakespeare, never fear! Hank and Falstaff provide the sparknotes version to any information you might need to know.

David Hudson and Christopher Ryan Grant in Hank V. Photo by Lloyd Mulvey
David Hudson and Christopher Ryan Grant in Hank V. Photo by Britannie Bond

After a modern verse prologue which depicts Falstaff and Henry’s rowdy, college-bro friendship, we  receive word that Henry’s father has passed, and in true meta form, Falstaff and Henry decide to act out Henry V. Falstaff doesn’t actually appear in Henry V; he’s dead by Act II, betrayed by the loss of Henry’s friendship as the young king assumes his royal duty. But here in Hank V, Falstaff serves the purpose of not only playing all the minor characters but also guiding Henry through his radically new role as king and commander.

As per Three Day Hangover’s approach, the play takes on a boozy transformation. The Stumble Inn (the Upper East Side bar serves as our “kingdom  for a stage.” Audience participators receive free shots as their death sentence and a map of England and France reflects conquered cities with coordinating solo cups. There’s beer pong pre-show that is excellent preparation for the final St. Crispin’s Day Battle, a massive beer pong free-for-all.  There’s also plenty of humor to go around: Falstaff and Hank improvise their way through costumes and props to hilarious effect. The camaraderie (maybe even chemistry in the Katherine scenes?) between Grant and Hudson makes for laugh-a-minute momentum and perfectly embodies the relationship between two old friends. 

The thing is, none of this shtick ever feels forced. These productions are so deft at incorporating drinking games, pop culture, and comedy into the original text. They move fluidly from modern lingo into Shakespearean verse with hardly a beat, and then back into a dance party with your favorite 80’s pop song. Three Day Hangover shows just how much of a living, breathing text this classic play can be, and then go about rejuvenating them with their special brand of (alcoholic) elixir.

Photo by Lloyd Mulvey
Photo by Britannie Bond

And if it’s not clear how much of a blast we had at Hank V, we’ve saved our happiest report for last. Including Falstaff into Henry V’s journey as new king is one of the most brilliant adaptive measures ever. Shakespeare’s the man and all, but the history plays can be a bit stodgy at times. The battle preparations and political schemes and war scenes can overrun a play like Henry V, causing it to skimp on the characters and relationships. What Three Day Hangover have effectively done is take one of the greatest literary friendships of all time and extend it into the most trying and difficult time of Henry’s life. It makes his transition into king all the more poignant and so much more human. In Henry V, we are introduced to Henry as an already coronated king and a budding leader. In Hank V, we are still drinking up with the young prince who now has an entire country to rule over and a war to win. Falstaff is the stabilizing force in Hank’s life, and watching them pass through Hank’s trials together, with Falstaff inevitably fading out of them, after all the drinking and debauchery, makes for such wistful and intimate moments.

Three Day Hangover’s Hank V plays at The Stumble Inn through March 1. Tickets Here. Do it.

“Seoul of Broadway” @ Joe’s Pub

“Be the change you want to see.” — It’s a phrase that often gets thrown at artists of color when they point out the obvious lack of diversity in their field. Though the sentiment is over-simplistic, there is great value in artists creating the diverse work that is so desperately needed. That value was shown in Seoul of Broadway, a benefit concert at Joe’s Pub that showcased and celebrated the work of Korean and Korean-American musical theatre writers.

image(10)
Gen Parton Shin, Daniel J Edwards, Lynn Craig, and Christine Lee performing “Let It Turn Blue.”

Highlights included “In My Dress,” a sweet song performed by Ali Ewoldt about a circus sideshow performer who feels beautiful in the dress she wears. Another was “Let It Turn Blue,” a hilarious number in which actress Christine Lee plays a teenage girl awaiting the results of her pregnancy test. The night closed off with a bang, when Lynn Craig performed “Open Your Eyes.” In the song, a Yale professor encourages her student to follow his passions. If only all college professors could inspire their students by belting an F like a boss.

image(9)
Lynn Craig performing “Open Your Eyes.”

I was also impressed by how different all the musicals were. Fantasy elements featured in three musicals, while the myth of Persephone and Hades was the focus of another. There were contemporary musicals dealing with young people finding their place in the world, and others where characters were contemplating their death. There was even one song that was performed entirely in Korean.

To see such a wide breadth of narratives, written and performed by artists we often don’t see represented, wasn’t just a testament to their talent. Seoul of Broadway was also an excellent preview of what’s to come in musical theatre.

image(11)
Clockwise from bottom left: Daniel J Edwards and Q Lim performing “Together We Will Go” from Elementals, Catherine Cheng Jones performing “Candy Dad” from Missing Parents, and Ali Ewoldt performing “In My Dress” from Julia Pastrana: The Monkey Woman of Sinaloa.

For more information about Seoul of Broadway, click here.

“Honeymoon in Vegas” Brings Fun, Farce, and Fourth-Wall Breaking to Broadway

Sometimes, Broadway producers decide they need to turn a long forgotten movie into a musical. To do so, they usually rope in talented composers and lyricists to cobble together some songs.  And to really seal the deal, they hire someone famous (anyone famous, it seems) to entice ticket buyers and make theatergoers wonder: can so-and-so really pull it off?

Honeymoon in Vegas, now playing at the Nederlander Theatre does all of the above, and succeeds so well you almost forget all the times Broadway has gotten it wrong. Based on the 1992 film, Honeymoon in Vegas has music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (our very own 21st-century Sondheim) and stars American sweetheart Tony Danza. It’s a complex equation, but one that makes a fantastic musical. Let me count the ways:

1) The storyline is perfect for a madcap musical.

Honeymoon in Vegas begins with a silly premise: that Jack (Rob McClure) can’t marry his long-suffering girlfriend Betsy (Brynn O’Malley) because his mother (Nancy Opel) cursed him on her death bed. When Betsy confesses that she isn’t sure if she can stay in the relationship without commitment (“Anywhere But Here”), Jack decides that they’ll elope in Vegas. But when high-rolling gambler Tommy (Tony Danza) sees that Betsy looks just like his deceased wife, he’ll do anything to break up the engagement.

Yes, this is the plot of the show. It relies on weird coincidences, family curses, and some good old-fashioned sexism. (No, Tony Danza, “stealing” a woman from another man like a prize farm animal is bad, and you should feel bad.) But those ridiculous elements make up an excellent farce that would have Moliere laughing in his powdered wig. Not only does Honeymoon in Vegas (with a book by Andrew Bergman and direction by Gary Griffin) have impeccable comedic timing, but it also has well developed characters whose actions always have logical reasons. Even better, they aren’t afraid to point out how wacky things are getting. When Betsy spurns Jack to spend a weekend with Tommy, she does it out of anger for Jack’s continuing hesitance to be married. She also points out to Tommy that this is a “crazy arrangement,” aware of the unusual circumstances she’s experiencing.

honeymooninvegas2
A troupe of parachuting Elvises, providing more unusual circumstances and a rousing eleven o’clock number.

What makes Honeymoon in Vegas even more complex and enjoyable is its awareness of the audience. In “I Love Betsy,” Jack sings, “I like Broadway (once a year),” a fun aside for theatergoers. Later in the show, while Tommy is singing and dancing in front of a golden curtain, his henchman (Matthew Saldivar) enters and looks up confusingly at the the glitzy set piece. This doesn’t stop him from joining the number and singing in perfect harmony, though.

honeymooninvegas3
I mean, who could resist the allure of a musical number?

2) Jason Robert Brown can do commercial oh-so-well.

Known for writing heart-wrenching musicals like Parade, The Last Five Years, and most recently The Bridges of Madison County, Jason Robert Brown is the widely known as the musical writer who makes you cry.

This is what Jason Robert Brown does to his characters. (Source: Daily Mail UK)

I had wondered how Jason Robert Brown was going to handle the music and lyrics to Honeymoon in Vegas, a story that doesn’t resemble his usual work. As it turns out, he’s ace at it, from catchy up-tempo numbers like “I Love Betsy” and “Friki-Friki” to sweeter fare like “You Made the Wait Worthwhile.” There’s even a “classic” JRB song in the mix (and of course, it’s my favorite): “Anywhere But Here,” Betsy’s soaring solo where she needs more from her relationship with Jack. Honeymoon in Vegas has one of the best original scores Broadway has seen in a long time, and I look forward to seeing what else Jason Robert Brown has up his composer and lyricist sleeves.

3) Tony Danza and the cast are incredibly charming.

Now an amazingly written and directed musical is all well and good, but you don’t have actors who can sell it, it can still fall flat. Luckily, the cast of Honeymoon in Vegas has talent and charisma for ages. Rob McClure (my new Broadway crush), is adorable as hapless Jack, bringing boundless energy into the role. Brynn O’Malley is definitely enjoying herself as Betsy, and it shows. She tries to be calm throughout the madness, but sometimes she can’t help having fun, downing drinks and trying on wedding dresses in “Betsy’s Getting Married.”

And Tony Danza, the celebrity in our Broadway production equation, is a perfect addition to the show. He can sing. He can act. He also wows the audience in a tap number, and delights them when playing the ukelele. While he does it all, it’s with a knowing smile, the consummate showman throughout his performance.

honeymooninvegas1
Tony Danza, being charming as hell.

So if you haven’t seen Honeymoon in Vegas, you totally should. Broadway’s made a gamble that might just pay off.

Oh, Mother: “Our Lady of Kibeho” @ Signature Theatre

In the second act of Our Lady of Kibeho, now playing at the Signature Theatre, one priest admonishes another with the line, “You have a weak stomach for faith I see.” The same could also be said for New York theatre audiences, who prefer religious motifs to be accompanied by biting satireor a big musical number.

You know how musical nuns do. (Source: nytimes.com)

Written by Katori Hall, Our Lady of Kibeho does neither, going the route of a drama based on true events. In 1981, Alphonsine Mumureke (played by Nneka Okafor), a student at an all-girls Catholic school in Kibeho, Rwanda, starts to have visions of the Virgin Mary. At first her visions are thought to be the imaginings of a young girl. Then another classmate, Anathalie Mukamazimpaka (Mandi Masden) begins to have visions too. Both girls face the threat of expulsion from the school, and are mercilessly bullied by Marie-Claire Mukangango (Joaquina Kalukango)… until the Virgin Mary visits her, too. The school’s head priest, Father Tuyishime (Owiso Odera) wants to believe the girls’ visions, while Sister Evangelique (Starla Benford), the head nun, does not. Father Flavia (T. Ryder Smith), a priest sent by the Vatican, investigates the truth behind the girls’ visions. What they all soon discover is that the Virgin Mother’s messages also warn of a dark future for Rwanda.

OUR LADY OF KIBEHO

At first, I wasn’t sure what narrative direction Our Lady of Kibeho was going to take. Was it going to be like Doubt, where the mystery depended on the veracity of the characters? Or was it going to treat the religious material with an excess of derision or reverence? Thankfully enough, none of these scenarios play a part in Our Lady of Kibeho. Yes, Mary’s apparitions are presented as fact rather than fantasy (with breathtaking special and aerial effects, designed by Greg Meeh and Paul Rubin). But the strength of the show lies not in its religious stance, but in the faith of its characters. Yes, Alphonsine is the first to receive visions of Mary, and actress Nneka Okafor embodies the role with grace. Still, she feels the burdens of the visions, and is tempted to try and sin to make the visions stop.

OUR LADY OF KIBEHO
Spoiler alert: the sexy priest might be the source of said temptation.

Some of the play’s best scenes involve the character’s responses to the visions. Father Tuyishime wants to believe the girls… but he has not prayed in eight years. Sister Evangelique seems to thwart the girls at every turn… but it’s because she wonders why she cannot see the Virgin Mary, too. And Father Flavia is skeptical if miracles can truly come to a village in Rwanda.

OUR LADY OF KIBEHO

The play’s acceptance of the girls’ visions also allows audiences to focus on another dramatic current running through Our Lady of Kibeho: the ethnic tensions in Rwanda that led to the country’s horrific genocide in 1994. In the same way that Cabaret slowly reveals the future devastation that Nazis will bring to Berlin, Our Lady of Kibeho continually makes references to the Hutu/Tutsi conflict. When Alphonsine is initially mocked for her visions, her Tutsi background is also used against her. Marie Claire, who first bullies Alphonsine, is actually pretending to be Hutu… and will later die for it. (The real life Marie Claire was killed in the genocide; in the play, Marie Claire has a vision of her death.) And when Father Tuyishime and Sister Evangelique disagree over the girls’ well-being, there is the underlying knowledge that Father Tuyishime is head of the school because he is Tutsi… and Sister Evangelique is not.

OUR LADY OF KIBEHO
The head priest in charge—and the head nun waiting in the wings.

Our Lady of Kibeho is a definite must-see. Katori Hall’s play about three girls who inspire a nation the brink of destruction is as exhilarating as it is devastatingand that is truly a miracle.

“Grand Concourse” @ Playwrights Horizons

The average theater-goer may not find Grand Concourse, a large boulevard spanning the Bronx, to be a source of dramatic inspiration. But as someone who’s been riding the Bx1 bus all her life, I can point out a few treasures:

1) The Pregones Theater, a fantastic theatre company just a few blocks away that has recently teamed up with the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater,

2) The Bronx Supreme Criminal Court, where real life courtroom dramas play out five days a week, and

3) The Butternut Street Theatre at All Hallows High School, located on Grand Concourse and East 164th Street. It’s where seventeen-year-old me got serious with Shakespeare in the Drama Club’s production of The Winter’s Tale.

So when I heard that Playwrights Horizons was producing a play named after Grand Concourse, my interest was totally piqued. I wanted to know how playwright Heidi Schreck was going to utilize this underutilized setting. I was also desperately hoping that this wouldn’t be one of those narratives where the one white cipher character is forever changed by the other lively but troubled minority characters.

No. Stop that. (Source: http://www.post-gazette.com)

Fortunately, my fears were completely unfounded. Grand Concourse is as complex and captivating as its namesake. Set in a Bronx soup kitchen, the play follows Shelley (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), a veil-less nun who is questioning her faith–and is setting her one-minute prayers to the kitchen’s microwave timer. She’s assisted by Oscar (Bobby Moreno), an affable twenty-something who works at the soup kitchen, and is pestered by Frog (Lee Wilkof), a soup kitchen regular who sneaks carrots out of the refrigerator. Enter Emma (Ismenia Mendes), a nineteen-year-old college dropout who wants to start volunteering at the kitchen. Shelley takes Emma on, not knowing the devastating and life-changing consequences it will bring.

GRAND CONCOURSE OCTOBER 17, 2014 – NOVEMBER 30, 2014 PETER JAY SHARP THEATER Written by   Heidi Schreck Directed by  Kip Fagan WORLD PREMIERE Called to a life of religious service, Shelley is the devoted manager of a Bronx soup kitchen, but lately her
Emma, Oscar, and Shelley putting the Soup Nazi to shame. (Source: Joan Marcus)

Heidi Schreck’s play is a breath of fresh air in contemporary theatre. Having the play set not only in the Bronx–but in a basement soup kitchen–allows for new actions to take place that wouldn’t occur in, say, a living room in a home in New England. The diverse cast also actually resembles New York City’s colorful population. Their diversity isn’t just interesting in terms of ethnicity and gender, though. The varied characters (a young woman, a young man, a nun, and a homeless man) allow for different relationships and conflicts to occur: ones that we don’t often see in a standard two couples/family living room drama. I found it particularly engaging to watch Shelley’s progression as she struggles with her identity, her religion, and her ability to forgive. Shelley’s difficult yet triumphant journey makes her the fiercest nun in theatre since Audra McDonald’s Mother Superior.

So holy. So fierce. (Source: vanityfair.com)

Grand Concourse’s other strength lies in its humor. The cast, directed by Kip Fagan, has excellent timing in bringing Schreck’s comedic moments to life. Grand Concourse’s ability to make the audience laugh further accentuates the poignancy of the play’s more serious moments. It shows that there’s plenty drama to be found in the Bronx–and some smiles, too.

LMezz Reads: Halloween 2014

Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year–candy corn and costumes, what’s not to love? While Christmas reads fill me with comfort and joy and summer reads allow for immersion and relaxation, Halloween offers its own reading thrills. Here are the books that are keeping me up at night this Halloween week:

1. FROM HELL by Alan Moore

(Source: goodreads.com)

While I’ve loved classics V For Vendetta and Watchmen, I’ve never delved into Alan Moore’s treatment of Jack the Ripper. That’s all changing now, as From Hell is becoming my favorite graphic novel written by Moore. The art by Eddie Campbell, equal parts exquisite and sinister, has sent my imagination to 19th century Whitechapel–where I hope not to bump into a certain knife-wielding killer.

2. GONE GIRL by Gillan Flynn

(Source: gillian-flynn.com)

I know, I know. I should have read this eons ago, but I’ve just recently got my hands on it–and am not letting go. Gillan Flynn’s novel about a missing woman has the perfect amount of suspense to get my heart racing before Halloween.

3. BATMAN VOL. 1: THE COURT OF OWLS by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

(Source: goodreads.com)

Almost any Batman volume would be perfect for Halloween, as Gotham has scares all year round. The Court of Owls, though, offers a new threat to Bruce Wayne. A series of murders have overtaken Gotham, and a secret society behind the deaths has selected Bruce as their next target. The owl and bat motifs woven throughout the book also add to an already dark and captivating read.

 

“On the Town” Shows Broadway How a Musical Revival is Done

Broadway revivals are a staple of New York’s theatre tradition. While producers’ motivations are obviously marked by dollar signs, revivals also provide theatergoers with an opportunity to see a beloved production live–and not just subsist on cast recordings, film adaptations, and memories of performances past. This season’s revival of On the Town, now playing at the Lyric Theatre, offers audiences a chance to see a Golden Age classic–and have a rip-roaring good time in the process.

The plot of On the Town is simple: sailors Gabey (Tony Yazbeck), Chip (Jay Armstrong Johnson), and Ozzie (Clyde Alves) are on leave in New York City for 24 hours. They all have something they want to accomplish that day. Chip wants to see all the sights. Ozzie wants to see all the girls–and is probably the inspiration for these kind of posters:

(Source: Mentalfloss)

Gabey’s goal ends up to be the most pressing, as he wants to meet the latest Miss Turnstiles: Ivy Smith, (Megan Fairchild), whose poster captures Gabey’s imagination and heart. The boys split up to find Ivy, finding romance along the way. Chip meets Hildy (Alysha Umphress), a taxi driver intent on bringing Chip to her place. Meanwhile, Ozzie falls for Claire De Loone (Elizabeth Stanley), an archeologist who is more unhinged than she seems. Though Gabey does find Ivy, it isn’t certain if he will join his dream girl in a musical happy-ever-after.

onthetown1
(Source: onthetownbroadway.com)

On the Town is a delightful musical, and this production seems to have no difficulty in bringing that delight to the stage. With John Rando’s perfectly paced direction and Joshua Bergasse’s stunning choreography, On the Town dazzles from start to finish. The musical numbers are brilliant, being both hilarious (“Carried Away,” “I Wish I Was Dead,” and many more) and poignant (“Lonely Town,” “Some Other Time”). And while I’m not the biggest dancing enthusiast, the dream ballet sequences in On the Town (which surprisingly outnumber the ones in West Side Story) are a must see. They are mini-productions in their own right, with gorgeous dancing narratives supported by Leonard Bernstein’s lush score.

onthetown2
(Source: onthetownbroadway.com)

On the Town’s cast is another winning element. First off, it is wonderful that a musical revival has a cast more diverse than its original mounting. People of all ages, body types, and ethnicities round out the ensemble, which is something refreshing–and welcoming–to see. There are also standout performances by all: New York City Ballet principal dancer Megan Fairchild is an adorable Ivy, as well as being the reigning queen of dream ballet sequences. Elizabeth Stanley embodies kooky fierceness as Claire De Loone, while Alysha Umphress slays the role of Hildy with her voice alone. The three actors playing our lovable sailors are also fantastic with their roles. Having playful energy and the dancing and singing chops to back it up, Jay Armstrong Johnson and Clyde Alves are the embodiment of musical theatre fun. And Tony Yazbeck, with his beautiful voice and soulful eyes, is the perfect protagonist to root for. He’s also a welcome member of the shirtless men in musical theatre guild.

(Source: broadway.com)
Ramin Karimloo, the guild’s president. (Source: broadway.com)

On the Town is a revival that has energy, focus, and most importantly, has fun. And with a great musical, that’s all you need for a night at the theatre.

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