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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Time and the Conways (Roundabout Theatre Company)

By Harry Forbes

This is a worthy if not truly inspired revival of J.B. Priestley’s highly intriguing 1937 play about the bourgeoisie in England between the wars, class distinction, and the nature of time.

Elizabeth McGovern, fresh from her “Downton Abbey” fame, stars as the widowed matriarch of a family of four daughters and two sons. But she is far from the sweetly compassionate Countess of Grantham on the popular PBS series. And though she played a expatriate American in that series, here she’s playing it quite English.

The play opens in 1919 on the 21st birthday celebration of daughter Kay (Charlotte Parry). The family is in a festive frenzy over the off-stage pantomime they are putting on for their guests. There are Kay's sisters: lovely young Carol (a radiant Anna Baryshnikov), glamorous Hazel (Anna Camp), budding socialist Madge (Brooke Bloom), and two brothers, the unassuming Alan (Gabriel Ebert) and, just back from the war, the callous ladies man Robin (Matthew James Thomas), the apple of Mrs. Conway’s eye.

There’s also the young lawyer Gerald (Alfredo Narciso), soon to be the family solicitor, up-and-coming working class Ernest (Steven Boyer), and family friend Joan (Cara Ricketts). Everything is merry, and a bright future for all seems certain.

But then the set recedes (excellent stage effect by Neil Patel), and another descends from the flies. It’s now 1937, and we see the same characters in quite a different light. This time, acrimony and unhappiness are the pervasive moods.

After intermission, we’re back in 1919, and now with the knowledge of what is to come, we observe evens quite differently.

Priestley, heavily influenced by the work of philosopher John William Dunne on the subject of time, takes the point that the past, present, and future are one, and it is important to see all periods as part and parcel of the present. This theory is articulated by Alan to his prescient sister Kay, a budding novelist in the first scene, later a working journalist who has compromised her youthful ideals. Good times and misfortune can co-exist. “Man was made for joy and woe,” says Alan, quoting Blake. Even young Carol remarks in the first scene that she sometimes thinks of tragic moments when she is in the midst of a happy occasion.

Paloma Young’s costumes are stylishly period, though the limitations of the American Airlines Theatre seem to force a rather flat scenic perspective, despite Patel’s accomplished work. “Indecent” Tony winner Rebecca Taichman’s mostly knowledgeable and sensitive direction (she helmed a prior production at the Old Globe) sometimes, I feel, misses the mark here.

In a pivotal scene of thwarted romance involving Madge and Gerald, for instance, Bloom has been allowed to play her girlish enthusiasm far too stridently, so much so that we’re not allowed to feel the terrible regret of her lost opportunity. We’re rather relieved when Gerald gets away from her. Similarly, the poignancy of another romance (between Alan and Joan) tragically derailed by an intrusive Robin is missing as Thomas plays the scene far too benignly with little hint of his predatory nature.

As stated, Mrs. Conway is far from a model mother, but the audience brings such affection for McGovern, they sometimes seem too much in her corner, laughing and applauding her actions, even when her character is behaving most unfeelingly.

As often the case with these very British plays, an American cast doesn’t always capture the authentic cadence as well as an English cast might, but generally they do well. To see a more idiomatic performance, I recommend an outstanding 1985 British production currently available on YouTube, with Claire Bloom as the mother, and a young Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes on “Downton Abbey”) as Kay.

Though all the performances here are attractive and skillful, ultimately it’s the men who come off best. Boyer is truly superb at Ernest (ill-at-ease in the early scenes, and brutally hard in the second). Ebert tremendously appealing at Alan, and Thomas a convincing wastrel.

(American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42 Street; roundabout or 212-719-1300; through November 26)

Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Clockwork Orange (New World Stages)

By Harry Forbes

This highly stylized adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 dystopian novel (later made into a famous film by Stanley Kubrick) comes to New York by way of London. As did several previous stage versions, including one written by Burgess himself, this one utilizes quite a bit of music, here almost wall-to-wall synthesized rock.

Director Alexandra Spencer-Jones’ production -- with an all-male cast of nine (from both sides of the Atlantic)  and choreographed within an inch of its life -- has a strong homoerotic feel above and beyond the buffed torsos on display (especially Jonno Davies as Alex, ringleader of a group of teenage thugs called, in Burgess’ Anglo-Russian Nadsat patois,  Droogs -- Dim (Sean Patrick Higgins), Georgie (Matt Doyle), and Pete (Misha Osherovich) among them). (Amusingly, the men’s room line snaked out for miles, while the women breezed into theirs with nary a wait.)

The intermission-less 90 minute production follows the basic outline of Burgess’ novel, as the gang terrorize and rape innocent people, both on the street and in their homes, a murder finally landing Alex in prison where another lethal act of violence leads to him submitting to aversion therapy designed to make violence repugnant to him, underscoring Burgess’ conundrum about the the morality of removing free will. After a suicide attempt, the reconditioning wears off, and unlike Kubrick’s film, the play ends with Alex’s final reformation, the portion originally dropped from American editions of the novel.

As with the recent stage adaptation of “1984,” you’d do well to read a synopsis beforehand, if you don’t know or have forgotten the story. The stylized staging and the cast playing multiple roles -- male and female, but hard to tell the difference -- often makes the plot turns difficult to follow. Timothy Sekk doubles as Alex’s parole offer and the prison chaplain. Brian Lee Huynh is the principal doctor of Alex’s behavior modification and also, earlier on, one of Alex’s unlucky victims. And so on.

The musical soundtrack accompanying all the onstage “ultraviolence” (as Burgess described it, coining a new word) is a highly amplified combination of original music by Glenn Gregory and Berenice Scott, Beethoven (that composer being the surprising favorite of the otherwise uncouth Alex), and others. So, too, there are some glaring lighting effects (James Baggaley) contributing to an overall assault on the senses. There were, in fact, a few walkouts at my performance, but a standing ovation at the end.

The relentless violence (sexual and otherwise) eventually grows wearying and loses its shock value. One doesn’t feel much, if any, emotional involvement in the action. But the tireless Davies gives an undeniably dynamic and highly committed performance, while also serving as fight captain. For all the non-stop dancing, sometimes suggestive of “West Side Story” to a rock beat, there’s no choreography credit per se, but cast member Aleksander Varadian is dance captain.

(New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street; or 212-239-6200; through January 6)

Photo: Caitlin McNaney

Friday, September 1, 2017

Prince of Broadway (Manhattan Theatre Club)

By Harry Forbes

There’s no denying Hal Prince has had an absolutely amazing and prolific career.  In fact, near the top of the present career overview, the titles of all the shows he’s either directed or produced are projected in rapid succession, and those classic titles alone signals the indisputable fact that attention must be paid.

With the man himself -- and frequent collaborator, the great Susan Stroman -- at the helm (both directing, and she handling the choreography), and such a wealth of material upon which to draw, one can’t go far wrong. And indeed they don’t. For, on the whole,  this is a satisfying overview of a richly varied career.

Unlike “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway,” however, which recreated full numbers as that choreographer/director had originally staged them, the present show gives us more of an evocation of the original, some closer than others. Inevitably, when recreating great moments, we can’t help but recall the stars who made them so memorably in the first place. And with due respect to this talented lineup, some of whom played in the show during its initial run in Japan three years ago, that’s where the evening sometimes falls short.

The cast of nine serves as first-person narrators of Prince’s career, as “he” tells his story (book by David Thompson), interspersed with the musical numbers. The device is a bit hokey, but gets the job done.

As this is MTC, not a commercial Broadway mounting, Beowulf Borritt’s sets are perforce more resourceful than truly lavish, though some set pieces surprise with their scale: the comic book backdrop to “It’s A Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman,” for instance; the pink floral vista for the “Beautiful Girls” number from “Follies”; and the web-dominated “Kiss of the Spider Woman” motif, to name a few.

The cast members all acquit themselves well enough. Michael Xavier, Joe Gillis in the recent “Sunset Boulevard” revival, impresses in a number of sequences, ranging from “Company” (“Being Alive”) to “A Little Night Music” (“You Must Meet My Wife”) to  “The Phantom of the Opera” (“The Music of the Night”). Bryonha Marie Parham morphs effortlessly from Amalia in “She Loves Me” (“Will He Like Me?”) to Queenie in “Show Boat” (“Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” though singing the character of Julie’s lines) to Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” (though her rendering of the title song is rather overwrought, I thought). 

The always wonderful Tony Yazbeck scores with two “West Side Story” numbers (opposite Kaley Ann Voorhees’ lovely Maria in the “Tonight” scene), plays the Leo Frank character in “Parade” (“This Is Not Over Yet”), and stops the show with his virtuosic hoofing in  “The Right Girl” from “Follies.” Voorhees, incidentally, also plays Christine in the “Phantom” sequence (“Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”).

Kudos to Yazbeck and Stroman for at last restoring “The Right Girl” to the dance number it was originally when Hollywood hoofer Gene Nelson played the role. Since then, non-dancing Buddys have had to improvise jerky, angry movements during the dance breaks. Stroman has given him some really meaty steps which he pulls off in spectacular fashion.

Janet Ducal scored with “You’ve Got Possibilities” from “Superman” opposite Xavier’s buff Man of Steel, and later performs two “Evita” numbers in the second act. Brandon Uranowitz smoothly jumps from George in “She Loves Me” (“Tonight at Eight”) to the Emcee in “Cabaret” to Molina in “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

A svelte and vocally assured Emily Skinner gets to do  Desiree (“Send in the Clowns”), Joanne in “Company” (“Ladies Who Lunch” perhaps channeling Elaine Stritch a bit too closely); and Mary in “Merrily We Roll Along” (“Now You Know”).

Chuck Cooper straddled Ben in “Follies,” Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Joe in “Show Boat” (“Ol’ Man River” with annoyingly bowdlerized lyrics) and “Sweeney Todd” (“My Friends”) with varying success.

Most impressive of all, though, was the versatile Karen Ziemba who really nailed both “So What?” from “Cabaret” and “The Worst Pies in London” from “Sweeney Todd.”

Jason Robert Brown has done the arrangements, orchestrations and overall musical supervision, as well as penning a new song, the career-defining  “Do the Work” at the end.

William Ivey Long’s costumes, Howell Binkley’s lighting, and Jon Weston’s sound design are predictably first-rate.

(MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street; or 212-239-6200)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Ohio Light Opera 2017

By Harry Forbes

Writing these annual roundups of Ohio Light Opera’s summer festival -- run with consistent panache by Artistic Director Steven Daigle and Executive Director Laura Neill -- is becoming increasingly challenging in terms of avoiding the same old superlatives, particularly when the week attended includes a four-day symposium (that excellent feature now in its fourth year),.

This year’s was no exception as all of this company’s customary virtues were undiminished: the extraordinarily versatile players, the fine musicianship, the scholarship that goes into each revival, and above all, the overwhelming sense of dedication to the cause of musical theater and especially operetta.

The catnip for buffs this season was threefold: George Gershwin’s 1924 English musical “Primrose”; Victor Herbert’s 1912 super-rare Cinderella musical “The Lady of the Slipper”; and the original 1934 version of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” minus all the extraneous interpolations of later years. Matching these titles in delectability, if not necessarily rarity, were Emmerich Kalman’s glorious 1924 classic “Countess Maritza” and Sigmund Romberg’s still highly potent 1924 “The Student Prince,” which has the distinction of being the longest-running musical of the 1920’s, besting Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers & Hart, and everyone else.

Rounding out the season were decent mountings of “H.M.S. Pinafore” and “The Music Man.”

Heaps of credit for the overall excellence of the productions are due Steven Daigle whose unerring good taste and innate feel for the material are evident throughout. (He directed “Anything Goes,” “H.M.S. Pinafore,” “The Student Prince,” “Countess Maritza,” and “The Lady of the Slipper,” a remarkable achievement.’)

The regular conductors were back in force, all leading the excellent orchestra -- sounding, incidentally, better than ever -- with style: J. Lynn Thompson (“The Music Man,” “H.M.S. Pinafore,” “The Student Prince”); Steven Byess (“Anything Goes,” “Primrose,” “The Lady of the Slipper”), and Wilson Southerland (“Countess Maritza”).

“Primrose,” a delightful trifle about a young lady (Sarah Best) who falls for a romance writer (Nathan Brian) while her fiance (Benjamin Krumreig) pairs up with the blonde soubrette (Tanya Roberts), featured engaging songs by Gershwin (lyrics by Desmond Carter and Ira Gershwin), and an amusing book by Guy Bolton and George Grossmith, Jr. This was Best at her best, and she had one of the show’s showstoppers as she let her hair down for “Naughty Baby” (familiar to buffs for its inclusion in the Gershwin pastiche, “Crazy For You”). Stephen Faulk was a hoot as a foppish ladies man pursued by a social climbing beautician (Alexa Devlin in but one of her many spot-on performances this season). The score was lovingly resurrected with the second and third act finales restored. It is truly astonishing to think this bit of British whimsy was penned by the same man who would soon give us “Porgy and Bess.” The whole was stylishly directed by OLO mainstay Julie Wright Costa who onstage made a good showing as Tassilo’s kindly aunt in “Maritza” and ingenue Hope’s imperious mother in “Anything Goes.” But everyone here seemed perfectly cast.

The first thing that strikes you about “The Lady of the Slipper” are the marvelous orchestrations, more sophisticated than almost anything else on OLO’s roster. The music is delightful throughout, if the performing edition is not quite as complete as the never-officially-released John McGlinn recording that sometimes surfaces on YouTube. The work itself is an oddball comic version of the fairy tale which originally served as a vehicle for the great vaudeville team of Montgomery and Stone, as well as the vocally deficient but, by all accounts, delightful Elsie Janis in the title part. All three had been able to interpolate their own specialities into the evening, as for instance, Stone’s acrobatics, and Janis’ apparently peerless impersonations. The result was a smash hit, and critics were unanimous in praising it.

OLO’s production, though attractive, was perforce on a more modest scale, but Stephen Faulk and Nathan Brian made a marvelous present-day Montgomery and Stone, singing dancing and even (in Brian’s case) turning cartwheels as Punks and Spooks respectively, while Gretchen Windt -- no doubt singing with better voice than Janis -- were most appealing leads. Roberts and Best turned up for droll comic turns as step-sister’s Dollbabia and Freakette (love those names!). And here again was Devlin, this time as a wacky gypsy fortune teller. Ted Christopher scored all of the comic points of Cinderella’s befuddled father. And Katherine Corle was the formidable Fairy Godmother. Two of the best songs come towards the very end: the infectious title number and “Put Your Best Foot Forward, Little Girl.”

“Anything Goes” gave Devlin her biggest part, the Ethel Merman role of nightclub chanteuse/evangelist Reno Sweeney. Brassy as Merman but arguably with more warmth she gave fine renditions of “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and the title song. The choreography by Spencer Reese, who also played romantic lead Billy Crocker, was quite spectacular right up to the ferociously tapping curtain call finale, which topped his impressive work last season for  “Kiss Me Kate” and others. Danielle Knox was lovely as Billy’s love Hope, and Kyle Yampiro scored as her not-so-stuffy English fiance who turns sweet on Reno.

It was quite fascinating to hear at last the original Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse book, the original orchestrations, and none of the Porter songs such as “Friendship” and “Heaven Hop” inserted into later revisions (notably the 1962 revival and the 1987 Patti LuPone Lincoln Center version). But I have a terrible confession. While I’m delighted to have seen this urtext version, it did strike me as rather book heavy with long stretches of non-musical material. I think the 1987 version that was, in all fairness, reasonably faithful to the original book, and added numbers cut from the show along the way, is actually an improvement.

“Countess Maritza” -- with composer Emmerich Kalman’s daughter Yvonne sitting ringside to cheer on the production and make a lovely curtain speech after -- was distinguished by its compelling leads -- Tanya Roberts, grandly imperious and vocally lustrous as the wealthy lady of the manor, and Daniel Neer as the high-born Count Tassilo, who has taken a job incognito as Maritza’s bailiff. Their acting generated real heat, and they sang Kalman’s glorious melodies with requisite passion. Grant Knox was amusing as her would-be suitor, pig farmer Zsupan, and Katherine Corle did well as Tassilo’s sister Lisa who falls for the former. Local restaurateur Spiro Matsos, whose cameo appearances have graced many OLO productions in the past, had an especially meaty part as Maritza’s servant Tschekko, and was quite touching as a good-hearted waiter in “The Student Prince.”

The score was complete including the number for Tassilo and the children (albeit performed by the young ladies of the ensemble) near the beginning and Tassilo’s last act aria (here “Life Could Be So Free of Strife”). The Sadler’s Wells translation by Nigel Douglas (once recorded by Jay Records with Marilyn Hill Smith) was employed here, and apparently an OLO DVD will eventually be forthcoming, which is a good thing as it’s very much a performance worth preserving.

Neer’s assumption of this romantic role was at considerable odds with his other roles -- both comic --  this season. He made a solid Captain Corcoran in “Pinafore” and a plausible Moonface Martin (Public Enemy Number 13) in “Anything Goes,” more gentle giant than the sweet nebbish originator Victor Moore must have been.

Speaking of “Pinafore,” there was good vocalizing from Krumreig and Hilary Koolhoven in the double cast roles of Ralph Rackstraw and Josephine, the latter coping with Josephine’s high-lying pieces with aplomb. OLO veteran Boyd Mackus was a first-rate Sir Joseph Porter, and was also solid in several other “older man” roles, including Doctor Engel in “The Student Prince,” and Maritza’s suitor, Prince Moritz, in the Kalman piece. Devlin’s Little Buttercup was, like her Katisha last season, richly sung in her classical mezzo, as opposed to Broadway belt, voice. Nathan Brian, a far cry from his dapper self in “Primrose,” transformed himself into a twisted Dick Deadeye.

“The Student Prince” had the audience satisfyingly reaching for Kleenex as Prince Karl Franz (Grant Knox, here the polar opposite of his comic turn in “Maritza”) and barmaid commoner Kathie's (Gillian Hollis with fearless high notes) youthful affair was doomed from the start. Stephen Faulk made a handsome, well-sung Captain Tarnitz who loves the prince’s fiancee Princess Margaret (Grace Caudle). They sang the sweeping waltz “Just We Two” very prettily. The men of the chorus acquitted themselves with distinction in this male-chorus dominated score. 

“The Music Man” was perfectly respectable, and had a very fine Harold Hill in the versatile person of Nathan Brian at my performance (Ted Christopher alternated the role at other performances), with Devlin again impressing with her warmly maternal Mrs. Paroo, mother of librarian Marian. (Sarah Best’s creamy mezzo had no trouble navigating the high-ranging notes, and acted with her usual sensitivity.) Spencer Reese again supplied impressive Broadway-style choreography, the highlight arguably being the big “Shipoopi” number led by Krumreig’s Marcellus. Young Bryson Christopher was an audience favorite with his cutely sung “Gary, Indiana.”

Nearly all the shows had corresponding lectures, excepting “The Music Man” and “Primrose.”. Broadway historian Richard Norton made a welcome return appearance recounting the tortured history of how “Anything Goes” came to be fashioned, especially after a boat disaster (the SS Morro Castle tragedy) made it necessary to scuttle P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton’s original story, He included detail about the economics behind the production, illustrated with aural and visual mementos of earlier productions.

Steven Ledbetter, currently working on an analysis of Herbert’s works from a musical perspective, gave us an erudite history of family entertainment that segued into a little background on the Herbert piece.

Romberg biographer William Everett presented a fascinating biographical talk on the Hungarian-born composer, and then another on “The Student Prince” hypnotically stressing the twin themes of memory and young love. His compelling narrative style made both talks especially engaging.

So, too, Wesleyan College literature professor Regina Oost offered a quite riveting lecture on the genesis of “Pinafore,” and topped that with an even more absorbing talk on the origin of “Ages Ago,” the light opera W.S. Gilbert (pre-partnership with Sullivan) wrote with Frederic Clay for the Gallery of Illustration run by German Reed. Like Everett, she has the unique ability to bring the past to vivid life.

And I must not forget OLO Board chairman Michael Miller who gave an intriguing (and, as usual,  highly amusing) lecture on lost operettas focusing on Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Thespis”; Victor Herbert’s “Vivandiere”; Kalman’s “The Blue House”; and Jerome Kern’s “Lamplight.”

Earlier, he had hosted an operetta film session and screened a fascinating oddball rarity, a 1950 B-level two-reeler, “The Return of Gilbert & Sullivan,” wherein the two gentlemen come down from the pearly gates to observe the havoc being wreaked on their songs, and make a deal with a Hollywood producer to compose songs for a musical film. It turns out to be a detective story (something akin to Fred Astaire’s gangster ballet in “The Bandwagon”) with the familiar tunes decked out with new lyrics. What was originally color was only available in black and white, and featured a no-name but not untalented cast, and the musical within the film was fun.

Oost’s “Ages Ago” lecture immediately preceded a slightly abridged concert version which proved highly rewarding on both musical and dramatic points. The piece rather echoes “Ruddigore” in its conceit of a portrait gallery coming to life.  Ivana Martinic as both Rosa and Lady Maud won all hearts when she emerged from her picture frame with her rapturous, exquisitely sung account of “I Live, I Breathe.”

The work itself was a revelation, genuinely funny and with a score of some distinction. (Composer Frederic Clay was, in fact, a friend of Sullivan.) There were some interesting Gilbertian conceits such as the propriety of falling in love with your ancestor and other head-scratching complications. Spencer Reese, Garrett Medlock, Gretchen Windt, and Kyle Yampiro were all in excellent form for the other roles. Everyone agreed this one really cried out for a full production, with its absorbing book and excellent score (perhaps it might be staged with the Sullivan/Burnand “Cox and Box,” some said), but even in this semi-staged, piano-only version, “Ages Ago” made a solid impression.

This was not the only treasurable concert of the week. The annual “Songs from the Cutting Room Floor” (that is, songs from the works currently on the mainstage that were cut prior to production or else, in some instances, added in later productions or films) was expanded to double-length, and allowed us to hear such gems as Marian’s doleful “I Want to Go to Chicago” (sung by the alternate Marian, Danielle Knox), the infectious “Jack o’Lantern Love” from “The Lady of the Slipper” (sung by Gretchen Windt and the ensemble) and Porter’s naughty “Kate the Great” from “Anything Goes” (sung by Arielle Nachtigal) all very well performed by the OLO singers, and marvelously accompanied by Eric Andries.

There was also a nighttime Lehar concert, comprised almost entirely of lesser-known numbers. A medley from “The Merry Widow” capped the first act, but apart from that, the numbers were all from works only die-hard collectors of those Lehar CPO CD releases would have heard, such as “Die Blaue Mazur,” “Der Rastelbinder,”  and ”Der Gottergatte.” Here was an opportunity for several members of the ensemble to shine, as they did. Most of the numbers were given in English which added interest. Wilson Southerland accompanied all with deft sensitivity. Daigle directed, and was credited with concept and script, while Michael Miller did the musical programming. Ted Christopher provided the droll narration as if it were an old-time radio broadcast.

Daigle was also the knowledgeable emcee for that concert and most of the others, though the cut songs narrating chores were shared with Laura Neill, J. Lynn Thompson, Julie Wright Costa, and Steven Byess. The musical programming and sharp script were courtesy of OLO board chair Michael Miller whose expert hand was evident throughout all the Symposium events.

On the last day of Symposium, there were two delightful concerts back to back. The first -- “Once Upon a Time - The Storybook World of Operetta” -- was composed of songs from works suggested by fairy tales, Cole Porter’s “Aladdin,” Johann Strauss’ “Indigo and the Forty Thieves,” and Mary Rodgers’ “Once Upon a Mattress” among them. Stephen Faulk and Ivana Martinic’s charming “Ev’ry Little Moment” from “Mr. Cinders”; Ted Christopher’s “Shall I Take My Heart and Go?” from Leroy Anderson’s “Goldilocks”; Tanya Roberts’ “How to Tell a Fairy Tale” from Herbert’s “Alice and the Eight Princesses”; and Nathan Brian’s “”When I Close My Eyes” from Charles Kalman’s “Dryad’s Kiss” were among the highlights. Again, Southerland accompanied, while Daigle narrated Miller’s script.

The second half entitled “Operetta’s Irreverent Take on Society at Large” featured winning numbers such as “Moonstruck”  from Lionel Monckton’s “Our Miss Gibbs” (with Gillian Hollis, Arielle Nachtigal, Katherine Corle, and Yvonne Trobe); the wickedly funny “In Izzenschnooken on the Lovely Essensook Zee” from Rick Besoyan’s “Little Mary Sunshine” (expertly sung by Julie Wright Costa); and “I’d Rather Be Right” from the Rodgers & Hart show of the same name (with Jonathan Heller and Katherine Corle). For both concerts, Southerland accompanied, while Miller narrated his predictably informative script.

So as you can see, this was a full plate indeed, but all the overlapping events were accomplished with minimal stress, thanks to the carefully strategic and efficient planning by Laura Neill and Michael and (fellow board member) Nan Miller.

(The Ohio Light Opera, The College of Wooster, 1189 Beall Avenue, Wooster, OH; 330-263-2345 or; through August 12)

All photos: Matt Dilyard

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

1984 (Hudson Theatre)

By Harry Forbes

With so many speaking of “1984” parallels in today’s political landscape, here’s an austere, high-tech dramatization of George Orwell’s 1949 novel about a totalitarian, dystopian future.

It comes to Broadway after runs at London’s Almeida and The Playhouse Theatres.

Tom Sturridge, recently such a fine Henry VI in the Shakespeare series, “The Hollow Crown” on PBS, and last on Broadway in the 2013 revival of “Orphans,” in a performance which earned him a Tony nomination, gives an admirably intense performance as Winston Smith, the rebellious Ministry of Truth worker eventually brainwashed and tortured to be in line with the beliefs of the Party and the unseen Big Brother. He uses a flawless American accent to match his castmates.

Olivia Wilde is also excellent as Julia, the Anti-Sex League worker, whom Winston initially fears is spying on him, but with whom he then engages in a passionate, forbidden affair in the backroom on an antiques shop offered to them by Charrington (Michael Potts). But little do they know that their love-making is being captured on the giant telescreens run by the Party. 

Strobe lights and jarring sounds abound, while giant monitors broadcast the considerable offstage action, as when Winston and Julia have their trysts in the backrooms. (The scenic design is by Chloe Lamford, video design by Tim Reid, sound by Tom Gibbons, and lighting by Natasha Chivers.)

The presentational style here makes it rather difficult to empathize with Winston’s plight, though Sturridge certainly cuts a pathetic figure as he’s subjected to all manner of torture.

Reed Birney is chilling as  the seemingly mild-mannered O’Brien who turns out to be a ruthless agent of the inner Party and Winston’s harsh interrogator.

There’s good work too from the other cast members including Wayne Duvall, Carl Hendrick Louis, Nick Mills, and Cara Seymour.

The adaptation, which covers the broad strokes of the novel’s plot, is the work of Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan who also direct, and plays for 101 intermission-less minutes. If you haven’t read the book in a while, you may find the narrative a bit difficult to follow (as I must confess, I did) given the stylized presentation.

Be warned, the violence is fairly graphic, with plenty of stage blood and such, no doubt the principal reason children under 13 are not admitted, but theatergoers with a hardy constitution will find the production an absorbing and intense  if sobering experience.

(Hudson Theatre, 139-141 West 44th Street; 212-239-6200 or

Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Marvin’s Room (Roundabout Theatre Company)

By Harry Forbes

Lili Taylor is wonderfully believable and endearing as Bessie, a good Samaritan taking care of her long-term ailing father (offstage) who has been incapacitated by a stroke for the past 20 years in Florida. But overall, this is a worthy but rather muted revival of Scott McPherson’s 1990 play (later a high-profile movie with Meryl Streep) which has never played on Broadway.

McPherson died of AIDS two years after the play was first done, and though there’s plenty of humor here, the tone is bittersweet.

Janeane Garofalo is Lee, the sister who abjured the caregiving responsibility of both their father (the titular Marvin) and their aunt soap opera-addicted Ruth (very likeable and underplayed Celia Weston) to her sister. But when Bessie is diagnosed with leukemia.

Lee shows up with her troubled teenage son Hank (sympathetic Jack DeFalco) -- who once set fire to their house and is now institutionalized -- and sweet younger brother Charlie (nicely played by Luca Padovan). One of them may be a bone marrow match for Bessie. Garofalo and Taylor do seem plausible sisters, but I think Garofalo needs to give Lee more of an edge.

Triney Sandoval has some funny moments in the rather caricatured role of an alarmingly absent-minded doctor at the roach-infested clinic where Bessie goes for treatment, and there’s capable work from Carman Lacivita as both the offstage voice of Marvin and Dr. Wally’s brother, and Nedra McClyde as two of the medical professionals encountered by Bessie.

Anne Kauffman directs her cast in too low-keyed naturalistic style that not only robs the play of tension, and causes some audibility problems, too. The dialogue is, at times, just too conversational.

At times, the pace tends to drag, though perhaps it’s mostly a case of the stage being too darned big for such an intimate drama, and Laura Jellinek’s panoramic glass brick set (lighted by Japhy Weideman) doesn’t help encourage more focus.

Despite the production’s flaws, the play’s themes of unequivocal love and selfless caring remain touching.

(American Airlines Theatre on Broadway, 227 West 42nd Street; 212.719.1300 or; through August 27)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Julius Caesar (The Public Theater)

By Harry Forbes

As you have surely heard by now, the conceit of director (and Public Theater Artistic Director) Oskar Eustis’ al fresco production casts the titular character as Donald Trump (in the person of Gregg Henry of TV’s “Scandal”), so Paul Tazewell’s costumes are, of course, resolutely modern dress without a toga in sight.

There’s been outrage from some quarters (including two of the Public’s sponsors, Delta Airlines and Bank of America, both of which have subsequently withdrawn their funding) presumably about the propriety of presenting our current commander-in-chief in such an unflattering light, and depicting his graphic assassination to boot, with the implication that there may be some condoning of the heinous act. But for anyone entertaining that latter interpretation, this is far from the case.

The motive for the killing in Shakespeare’s play is that Caesar, recently returned to Rome after victorious battle, has ambitious notions of accepting a crown, or so the conspirators, including Cassius (John Douglas Thompson), Casca (Teagle F. Bougere), and eventually Caesar’s beloved ally (and, according to Plutarch, possible son) Brutus (Corey Stoll) fear. 

But the Bard’s actual point is that once the grisly deed is done, utter chaos ensues, and the democratic structure of the Republic begins to crumble. So Shakespeare is quite pointedly not condoning violence, but rather, as Eustis has said, “Julius Caesar can be read as a warning parable to those who try to fight for democracy by undemocratic means.”
In any case, the killing of Caesar in the Senate (midway through the play) is staged with utmost gravity, and the sequence -- choreographed by fight directors Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet -- is quite harrowing and sobering. From this point on, a staging more true to Shakespeare’s play seems to kick in.

That said, I’m not sure the concept -- which doesn’t escape the sense of being a rather obvious gimmick -- entirely works. Shakespeare paints Caesar as a great man whose head has turned -- or is about to turn -- with delusions of grandeur. With sentiment about Trump being so strong, this ambiguity of the character is rather lost, and the play is upended in a peculiar way

The Trump scenes, in any case, elicit more “Saturday Night Live” chuckles than chilling parallels to the present administration..

Thompson -- most adept at performing American Shakespeare -- is a magnificent Cassius, and Corey Stoll as Brutus, though less verbally dexterous, is only a degree less commanding. As the worried wives of Caesar and Brutus respectively, Tina Benko is spot-on as a Melania-accented Calpurnia and Nikki M. James is very impressive as Brutus’ wife Portia.

I was rather less enamored of Elizabeth Marvel’s Marc Antony. Fine actress that she is, I didn’t understand the concept of having her in woman’s attire, referred to by other characters as “she,” and yet still addressed as Marc Antony. Her manipulative “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech is well articulated with the large cast scattered all around the Delacorte as noisy rabble, but her reading struck me as rather shrill and obvious.

The blue chip production team includes David Rockwell’s dominating Washingtonian gear-like set design, Kenneth Posner’s lighting, and Jessica Paz’s lighting are all state-of-the-art.

(The Delacorte Theater, 81st Street and Central Park West, or 79th Street and Fifth Avenue, free ticket distribution;; through Sunday, June 18 only)

Top: Tina Benko, Gregg Henry, Teagle F. Bougere, and Elizabeth Marvel in The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, directed by Oskar Eustis, running at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park through June 18. Credit: Joan Marcus

Center: Corey Stoll and John Douglas Thompson in The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, directed by Oskar Eustis, running at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park through June 18. Credit: Joan Marcus.