Let's Talk Off Broadway

Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: world premiere

Review | The Nomad | World Premiere | Book and Lyrics by Elizabeth Swados and Erin Courtney | Composed and Directed by Elizabeth Swados | Choreographer Ani Taj | Flea Theater

… nothing missed …

Teri Madonna and Friend Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum

Teri Madonna and Friend Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum

The opening afternoon of The Nomad was a cold winter Sunday: we made it from the subway to The Flea as falling snow cloaked everything in all-over veils of white to gray … and then the show began.  What a burst of color, brightness, and music, what delicious vibrance, as the play carries you to North Africa and its hot deserts.

With insistent percussive music saturated with North African overtones, theatrical effects to delight and astonish, and the superb performance of Teri Madonna in the lead role, it tells the story of Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904), a well-educated Swiss woman who left Europe to immerse herself in North Africa culture and the Sahara desert.  She dressed as a man for the freedom it afforded her, converted to Islam, married an Algerian, wrote about North Africa, and died in a flash flood and died at the age of 27.

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Review | My Life Is A Musical by Adam Overett | World Premiere | Directed and Choreographed by Marlo Hunter | Bay Street Theatre, Sag Harbor, Long Island

It feels exciting and even uplifting to attend the first performance of a new show.  This one, My Life Is A Musical, has a cute idea, some amusing moments, and some fine performances from its principals and excellent ensemble players.  On the other hand, the characters are thin, the story loose with predictable outcomes, and the music uninventive.    

What’s the cute idea?  Parker, who’s otherwise an uptight accountant, has a peculiar and lyrical trait:  he hears ordinary conversation as singing as in musicals, a quirk he hides because it makes him feel weird.  Like Jim Carrey in Liar Liar who can’t help telling the truth, Parker is mechanically locked in to a quirk he can’t help, leading to unavoidable — and potentially amusing — misunderstandings in his dealings with others. 

Roped in to being the accountant for a touring rock group, Parker encounters JT, the bouncy girl who’s group manager and Zach, its main singer. Since Parker is introverted and inexperienced with girls, and is used to hiding the truth about himself, he doesn’t confess his love to JT.  Meanwhile, with his special gift for hearing songs everywhere, he’s feeding Zach songs based on everything from fragments of overheard conversations to the words in his own heart about his growing love for JT.  Sure, Zach’s great at putting a song across but he has no soul within to write one himself (an unkind satire of rock musicians that I take in with skepticism).  Anyhow, Cyrano de Bergerac–like, JT falls in love with Zach who’s singing Parker’s love songs

And Zach, played by Justin Matthew Sargent, is great at putting a song across and some of the most enjoyable moments of the show are when he’s playing and singing.  The songs and styles are spoofs on famous singers:  “I’m just an ordinary dog,” sings the gyrating Zach.  

As Zach and the group rise to success because of Parker’s terrific songs (if only they were terrific, but they’re not), Randy, a music blogger who senses there’s something funny about the group’s sudden improvement, comes sneaking around in the guise of a suspicious detective to find out “the truth” about Parker and the group.  Randy, a spoof on “detectives you have known” from Sherlock Holmes to The Pink Panther and others in between, sings the song “What Have You Got To Hide” in the “Hernando’s Hideaway” style of covert excitement that’s enlivened many shows before.  Robert Cuccioli is theatrically commanding and archly funny as Randy, and the character lends itself to some engaging second act farce.

That’s a big improvement over what goes for humor in the first act:  I wish someone would explain to me why the phrase “It sucks” (variants he sucks, shethey…) used about 8 times early in the show, gets a laugh out of the audience every time.  Why?

Howie Michael Smith as Parker who comes out of his shell in the course of the show has a couple of introspective songs that come near to poignant but since he’s the only even partly genuine character, the others being amusing but campy caricatures (Randy, Zach) or cliché (JT), the songs spin off into nowhere.  Generally the songs, though energetically performed, tend to blend in to one another.  Put another way, “one doesn’t leave humming.”  The singers are miked, which should be unnecessary for professionals, all the more in a small theater.

Early on Parker confesses his quirk of hearing conversation as music — too bad because, he says, “I don’t like musicals.”  In spite of a laugh or two, I don’t think this one would have changed his mind. 

My Life Is A Musical plays at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, Long Island, NY through August 31.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

Comments are very welcome.  Scroll down, click on “comments,” write in comment box and click on “post.”  Emails are private and never appear with comments.

Colin Waitt as Jesus and the cast. Photo Jonathan Hollingsworth

Review | The Mysteries, 52 Episodes From the Bible Written by 48 Playwrights | World Premier | Conceived and Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar | Dramaturg Jill Rafson | Featuring The Bats | Flea Theater

The Mysteries is one whopper of a project!

It’s an epic telling of the Old and New Testaments, referring to Medieval and later “mystery plays” of the life of Christ, 52 episodes more or less in sequence divided into three parts:  The Fall, The Sacrifice, The Kingdom.  Written by 48 playwrights, it’s performed by 54 actors who act, sing and

Sarah Keyes of the Angel Chorus. Photo Hunter Canning

Sarah Keyes of the Angel Chorus. Photo Hunter Canning

dance 78 parts or so in 5 ½ hours, all taking place on the relatively small performance space of the Flea, with the audience in touching distance of the actors, and not only that, it includes dinner! .

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Review | And Away We Go by Terrence McNally | Directed by Jack Cummings III | World Premier | Pearl Theatre Company

… all the stage’s a world …

The back stage magic of And Away We Go makes me think of the wonderful song about a dogged and devoted itinerant theater group in Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, “We Open In Venice” (“then on to Cremona …. and on to …. and on …").  And Away We Go, too, is on the move — with the feel of a story about an equally valiant itinerant theater troupe only here the wanderings take them not just through Northern Italy but through time, back and forth.  This  imaginative, mind stretching extravaganza is beautifully pulled off by the Pearl Theatre group.

The play takes us behind the scenes from the Theater of Dionysos (not Dionysios as printed) in Ancient Athens to today, with stops at works-in-progress at the Globe in London and Versailles’s Royal Theater, and first productions of Chekhov and Beckett.  As we weave through time, through plays, and through personal as well as public dramas, the leading character is everywhere and anywhere the theater itself and the chancy, chaotic, demanding and disciplined process that makes plays happen.

An aspect that makes And Away We Go particularly strong is McNally’s inclusive vision of all who make “theater.”  Actors, directors, authors, mask makers, tech people, angels, artistic directors, food deliverers and audiences have roles.  No in-group snobbery here – fun is made of wannabe-a-part-of-it donors, and of everybody else – great fun, thanks to marvelous comic performers in the Pearl Theatre’s troupe!

There’s a total human inflection — theater as family, theater as loss of loved ones, theater as a tension between “advanced” plays and audiences who haven’t gotten there yet.   

I wish that in roving through theater from antiquity, and from Russia to Coral Gables, Florida, McNally had included forays into the great theater traditions world wide.  I suppose “you can’t do everything,” but, in the spirit of what works and what doesn’t, the focus on the traditions you’d find in “A History of Western Theater” course came across as narrow.  I also found the AIDS episode seemed a somewhat forced inclusion.    

In keeping with the joyous boisterous play, the set’s a riotous wonder of costumes, lights, manikins, and props — it's a wonderful work of art in itself — and the costumes are entrancing.  

At the start, each actor introduces himself or herself with personal and self-invented words — thus the theme that the great illusions are based on real people with specific lives and contexts is sounded – and never forgotten.  Since the play is a continuing flow of segues, it demands perfect timing, remarkable versatility on the part of the actors and comic and dramatic gifts.  Jack Cummings III firm hand on this non-linear romp through time and space is a directorial tour-de-force .

Micah Stock as the delivery man who doesn’t “get” Godot provides one among many comic high points.  Donna Lynn Champlin’s huge round eyes are hilariously expressive, whether she’s pushing a mop as a stolid Russian cleaning lady or catching up as a donor groupie in-love-with-theater.  Dominic Cuskern ranges with power and humor from a perfectionist mask maker in ancient Athens to perfectionist actor at Louise XIV’s Versailles – ever since I saw him as Malvolio in the Pearl’s Twelfth Night, I’ve thought of him as particularly outstanding in roles of men who take themselves too seriously. 

Rachel Botcham is vibrant (as well as humorous – just about everything comes with a strong dose of humor) as the woman who wants to act on stage – in epochs when the idea of a female actor was an absurdity.  Carol Schultz is touching and instantly persuasive as, for instance, the Russian Countess who doesn’t want her association with a theater group known.  Sean McNall is energetic and touching in his roles as actor and actor’s lover.  These are just snippets – this play’s a feast!      

The breadth of imagination of And Away We Go is invigorating.  This ambitious, perfectly fulfilled production is a fine evening of that challenging, joyous and essential aspect of existence — theater.

And Away We Go plays at the Pearl Theatre on Manhattan's west side through December 15, 2013.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.  Now EXTENDED through December 21, 2013.

Yvonne Korshak

Comments very welcome.  Scroll down, click on "comments," write in comment box and click on "post."  Emails are private and never appear with comments..

Review | Looking at Christmas by Steven Banks | Directed by Jim Simpson | Flea Theater | World Premiere

News Flash 12/15/2011:  The Flea’s Romantic Holiday Comedy
Looking at Christmas Comes to TV
December 21 – 25 on Thirteen WNET

Thirteen WNET will air The Flea Theater’s acclaimed 2010 production of Looking at Christmas by Steven Banks (head writer of SpongeBob SquarePants) beginning December 21. Filmed live at The Flea last year, this romantic comedy set in front of New York’s famed holiday window displays is directed by Jim Simpson and features The Bats, The Flea’s resident company of actors. Broadcasts on Thirteen WNET are slated for Dec. 21 at 10pm; Dec. 23rd at 3am, and Dec. 25 at 11pm. Check your local listing for airdates in other markets.  Here’s the review (Dec. 2010 )

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Review | Looking at Christmas by Steven Banks | Directed by Jim Simpson | Flea Theater | World Premiere

The Flea’s Romantic Holiday Comedy
Looking at Christmas Comes to TV
December 21 – 25 on Thirteen WNET

Thirteen WNET will air The Flea Theater’s acclaimed 2010 production of Looking at Christmas by Steven Banks (head writer of SpongeBob SquarePants) beginning December 21. Filmed live at The Flea last year, this romantic comedy set in front of New York’s famed holiday window displays is directed by Jim Simpson and features The Bats, The Flea’s resident company of actors. Broadcasts on Thirteen WNET are slated for Dec. 21 at 10pm; Dec. 23rd at 3am, and Dec. 25 at 11pm. Check your local listing for air dates in other markets.  Here’s the review.

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Review | Banished Children of Eve by Kelly Younger | Adapted from the Novel by Peter Quinn | Directed by Ciaran O’Reilly | World Premier | Irish Repertory Theatre

… only four days …

This is an important play about the effects on individual lives of the Civil War draft riots in New York City.  Since $300 would get you out of serving, it was easy enough to see the draft hit poor men unfairly, stimulating poor vs. rich antagonisms which, however, fast turned racial — setting poor Whites against Blacks.  During four days in July 1863, a Black man, woman or child could not walk the streets in safety or hide in safety, and many were murdered.  In  this play, the immigrant Irish represent the poor side of that equation.

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Review | John Ball’s In the Heat of the Night | Adapted by Matt Pelfrey | Directed by Joe Tantalo | World Premiere | Godlight Theatre Company

If you want an electric evening of theater, see In the Heat of the Night.  It’s an exciting detective murder mystery story, enlarged by its vivid, shocking portrayal of what it meant to be a Black man in the deep South in the 1960’s.  The play could not have a more dramatic presentation than the production at 59E59 Theaters where the audience, two rows deep, sits on four sides of the square stage.  You can’t get away from the action and — grim as it can be — you don’t want to.

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Review | Kaspar Hauser: A Foundling’s Opera by Elizabeth Swados and Erin Courtney | World Premiere | Flea Theater

Kaspar Hauser is an opera about a “feral child” who turned up on the streets of Nuremberg, Germany in 1833;  its music, focus on a world-battered individual, melodrama, cynical stream, and terrific sensory overload take us right back to Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill:  think Threepenny Opera.

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