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

Category: Adaptations From Great Authors Page 1 of 6

Review | Cabaret | Book by Joe Masteroff | Lyrics by Fred Ebb | Music by Joe Kander | North Fork Community Theatre, Mattituck, Long Island

…  for sure come to Cabaret

If you want to see a top-notch production of  one of the best American musicals, see Cabaret at the North Fork Community Theatre.  The songs, the musical splendor, the theatrical extravaganza and the powerful story are wonderfully realized in this production, and with an orchestra of eight fine players – you don’t always get live music like that on Broadway.

We’re in 1931 and the waning years of the Weimar Republic in Germany, a time of great creativity,  cultural daring and the freedom to fulfill it – as at the Kit Kat Klub in cosmopolitan Berlin.  There, it seems anything goes – an attitude, a spirit, a world view embodied in the insinuating, fascinating, sexually ambiguous Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub who oversees the events and holds the show together.

A young American would-be writer from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Cliff Bradshaw, gets a quick immersion in let-loose eroticism thanks to the British expatriate singer-dancer Sally Bowles. She’s thrown out of her job at the Kit Kat Klub – but thank heavens not before starring in the show’s dazzling, irresistible opening number, “Wilkommen”!

Needing a place to stay, she moves right in on the astonished Bradshaw, providing a quick introduction to the relatively naïve American on:  unmarried people living together, sex as a way to make a living, abortion, and … romance.

Their elderly, wise-to the-world landlady, Fräulein Schneider, a survivor in an eternally tough world, sings the tough-minded song, “So What?”  Sheer Brecht. So what anything.  So while she seems proper, it’s in character that she, too, is having an affair, with Herr Schulz, a successful fruit-seller widower who plies her not with roses but – even better — with Italian oranges.  Romance, it turns out, is for older people, too.  A theme of this show is that romance is for everybody – mix and match, boys and girls, boys and boys, girls and girls, threesomes, not to mention me and my gorilla.  I wonder if Woody Allen had Cabaret in mind when he wrote Whatever Works.

With all that, it’s not a big surprise that buxom Fräulein Kost in her Japanese silk dressing gown has a series of sailors visiting her at Fräulein Schneider’s rooming house. It’s all a bit over the top for the American from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania but not for long — he adapts quickly.

Why then does he leave Berlin?  Because he can’t adapt to the Nazis.

As the Weimar Republic fades, the Nazis rise to power.  The signs are there.  Swastikas appear on arm bands.  The song “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” is sung in a sweet soprano by a Young Boy, wearing a brown shirt, on his way to being a Hitler Youth.  Thugs break the window of Her Schultz’s store.  We only learn toward the end that Herr Schultz is Jewish because it hadn’t mattered before but now it does. Backing out of their marriage engagement– and before you get a chance to judge her — Fräulein Schneider sings, “What Would You Do?”  Well, what would you do?

Brianna Kinnier as Sally Bowles takes over the stage with her dancing and singing in the first rousing number, “Wilkommen.”  She sings that marvelous music while kicking up her flexible legs, from the floor the chair tops!  She’s joined by an excellent chorus, of singer-dancers, professionally trained, and wittily individualized:  Chelsea Chizever, the show’s talented choreographer, dances gorgeously in the role of Texas, Tamara Flanell, David Lopez, Katrina Lovett, Julia Pulick, Lisa Rasmussen, Haley Unger and Ryan Slatniski.   Chizever’s  choreography throughout is original, varied, creative, and captures the spirit of the times.

Justin Harris is astonishing as Emcee.  He seems always there – as the cabaret of life is always there, and he delivers his alluring songs, alone or ensemble,  “Wildommen,” “Two Ladies,” “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” “I Don’t Care Much,” with a worldly-wise irony that makes you want more.  “If You Could See Her” is a number that has to be seen to be believed – what a creative moment that was for the writers of this show.  Harris’s rendition of “Money,” with the ensemble, designed aptly and wittily circular by choreographer Chizever, is a show stopper.

Linda Aydinian puts across the songs of Fräulein Schneider with a warm intelligence and  a rough but tender pathos.  While no one sings the role with the sardonic catch in the voice Lotte Lenya brought to it in the original 1966 production (heard on YouTube), Linda Aydinian is terrific in her own way.

Michael P. Horn is touching as Fräulein Schneider’s lover, Herr Schultz, a man you can depend on to solve problems, but now we have to worry about him.  He’s got the Nazis to deal with — like Ernst Ludwig, whom Colin Palmer plays as a rapacious wolf in the clothing of urbane civility.  It looks like those are problems even Herr Schultz won’t solve.

Nick Mozlenski as Cliff Bradshaw sings well in the duet with Sally, “”Perfectly Marvelous.”  Jennifer Eager is a humorous and practical Fräulein Kost.

John Hudson as Max, the Kit Kat Klub’s owner, is a convincing brute who uses politics as an excuse to dole out the beatings.  Tom Del Prete brings intriguing delicacy to the Dancing Gorilla.  As the Young Boy, Joseph Podlas’s pure voice heralds an ugly future in “Tomorrow Belongs To Me.”  Matt Eager is a persuasive bureaucrat as the Customs Officer/Official.

John Kander’s witty, powerful music for Cabaret, with lyrics by Fred Ebb, is rendered by the strong orchestra directed by George Moravek, who plays the piano, and with Bob Blank on the guitar, banjo and ukulele, Crystal Crespo on the trombone, Ben Eager on the violin, Will Green on the drums, Ryan Nowak on the tenor and alto saxophone, Colin Van Tuyl on the trumpet, and Marie Varela on the alto and soprano saxophone and flute.

Cabaret is inspired by and derives much of its magic from The Threepenny Opera, with book and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill.  It’s based on the play I Am A Camera by John Van Druten that draws upon stories by Christopher Isherwood.  Thank you, North Fork Community Theatre, for this outstanding production of an important American musical.

Cabaret, so well directed by Manning Dandridge, plays at the North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck, Long Island, through  June 4, 2017.  For more information and tickets, click here.


An artist’s view of the big city and its nightlife during the Weimar Republic.  Otto Dix, German, Metropolis, 1928, wood, distemper, 181 x 404 cm., Kunstmuseum, Stuttgart.


Cast of Antigone by Jean Anouilh, adapted merging text and opera by Eilin O'Dea. Translated by Lewis Galantiere

Review | Antigone | By Jean Anouilh | Translated by Lewis Galantière | Fusion Theatre

                                                … the force of destiny …

Here’s an amazing experience!   You walk into a small off-Broadway theater.  The stage is about as minimal as can be – mainly there’s a baffle board at the back and an upright piano to the side.  Early on  Antigone, kneeling, agonized by Creon’s order forbidding burial for the body of her rebellious brother, expresses her anguish with an operatic soprano aria, “Pace, pace, mio Dio”  from Verdi’s La Forza del destino.  What a shock!  And what a way to convey intense emotion in a play.

Eilin O'Dea as Antigone, holding dirt from the burial of her brother in Antigone by Jean Anouilh, presented by Fusion Theatre. Photo Jonathan Staff

Eilin O’Dea as Antigone, holding dirt from the burial of her brother. Photo Jonathan Staff

The Fusion Theatre, originated by Eilin O’Dea, who directs the production and plays Antigone, is dedicated to the idea of merging classical theatre and opera.   This production  presents the text of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone of 1944 with the addition of four arias, and choral music from Saint-Saëns’ opera Antigone.   The impact is powerful.  The story, that Anouilh drew from Sophocles’ great drama written in the Fifth Century B.C., is famous for pitting the will of a girl against a king.

According to the ancient legend, Antigone, her sister Ismene, and their brothers, Polynices and Eteocles are the children of the fateful marriage of Oedipus with his mother.  Now Oedipus is dead, and his rivalrous sons have killed one another fighting for mastery of the city of Thebes.   Creon, now King of Thebes, has decreed that the insurgent brother who rose up against the city, Polynices, be deprived of the important rite of burial.  Antigone rebelliously contrives to bury him, incurring Creon’s wrath and risking dire punishment.

I knew that Anouilh’s Antigone had been written during World War II and produced in France as a protest against the German occupation, the censors not recognizing in the garb of a “classical” play that Creon’s dictatorship was a stand-in for the fascist occupation, and that Antigone stood for the spirit of resistance.  I didn’t expect, though, that to get the play past the censors, Anouilh had altered Antigone’s character.  Instead of the high-minded woman that she is in Sophocles’ play, challenging Creon with her brilliantly wrought arguments, here Antigone is quixotic, not principled.

Antigone’s statements of how she makes her decisions and why she acts as she does range from unclear to unconvincing.  I’ve heard her rationales in this play called “existential” but by the time Creon has earnestly, even desperately said everything he knows to save her from disaster and she ignores him, she seems just plain nutty.  Creon, on the other hand, and to my surprise, comes across as a sympathetic character, anguished by the conflict between what he thinks he ought to do for the safety of his city and his unwillingness to harm Antigone.

Paul Goodwin Groen as Creon, singing Ella Giammai from Verdi's Don Carlo in Fusion Theatre's Antigone by Jean Anouilh. Photo Jonathan Staff

Paul Goodwin Groen as Creon, singing Ella Giammai from Verdi’s Don Carlo: “If the Prince sleeps, the traitor is awake.” Photo Jonathan Staff

The sympathetic Creon brings us to a high point of this production– Paul Goodwin Groen, the magnificent bass, singing “Ella Giammai,” the aria sung by an equally distressed King Philppe II in Verdi’s Don Carlo.  Omigosh.  What an experience, to hear this full, operatic bass not in a vast opera house but in the intimate setting of, yes, off-Broadway!  Groen’s interpretation of the aria, his acting, his strength and his pathos – again, seen close – are thrilling.  If there were no other reason to see this play – and there are many others – Groen’s “Ella Giammai” would be of itself worth all.

The acting is for the most part of high caliber.  In particular, the multi-talented and creative Eilin O’Dea brings the maximum of dramatic tension to the role of Antigone. Byron Singleton

L-R Byron Singleton as First Guard, Adam Shiri as Second Guard, Jason Wirth, Music Director and Accompanist. Photo Jonathan Staff

combines down-to-earth self-interest with a touching sympathy in his role as First Guard, and with his fine tenor voice he provides a thoroughly enjoyable rendition of Manrico’s aria, “Deserto Sulla Terra,” from Verdi’s Il Trovatore.  Sue Ellen Mandel is touching as the Nurse, and Igby Rigby is cleverly insinuating as the Page/Chorus – the young “innocent” boy who’s already wise to the world.  Music Director Jason Wirth provides strong accompaniment to the singing, and plays a solo, on an upright piano to the side of the stage.

I can imagine that some may find it a little jarring for Fusion Theatre to pull in operatic arias to Anouilh’s script – perhaps, one may say, rather than “borrowing,” the group should have a composer write the music specifically for this play.  That would be a great idea if there happens to be a Verdi around – one willing to do it on a shoestring.  The operatic music was  thought-provoking, enriching and a pleasure to hear, and did a good job of advancing the Fusion Theater’s point that there’s value of merging classical theater and opera.

After all, we don’t even know what the music was that accompanied Sophocles’ Antigone around 441 B.C. – but we know there was music!

Fusion Theatre’s Antigone plays at the Studio Theatre on Manhattan’s Theatre Row, West 42nd Street, through May 28, 2017.  For more information and tickets, click here.

Cast of Antigone by Jean Anouilh, adapted merging text and opera by Eilin O'Dea. Translated by Lewis Galantiere

Antigone cast. L-R Allison Threadgold as Ismene, Pauline Yeng as Messenger, David Gran as Haemon, Sue Ellen Mendel as Nurse, Eilin O’Dea as Antigone (foreground), Paul Goodwin Groen as Creon, Igby Rigney as Page/Chorus, Adam Shiri as Second Guard, Byron Singleton as First Guard. Photo Jonathan Staff

Review | Vanity Fair | By Kate Hamill | Adapted from William Makepeace Thackeray’s Novel | Pearl Theatre Company

… all the world’s a vanity fair … 

This is a mind-expanding production of Vanity Fair.  It’s also funny, extravagant and visually fascinating.

The play, like the novel, focuses on a clearly motivated creature of her time, place and situation, Becky Sharp – a poor girl armed with smarts and wiles she’s determined to use to rise to the top in the affluent (sometimes) world of the British aristocracy.  Played by author Kate Hamill, you can’t take your eyes off Becky because her face fluidly – and humorously — reflects her moment to-moment assessment of precisely where her self-interest lies.

The play begins as the Manager (a vibrant and insinuating Zachary Fine) plunges through a red satin curtain and, like a barker at a fair, introduces us to this stylized, mordant satire of society – high and low.  Here it’s British society during the Napoleonic wars but it could be any time any place in “Vanity Fair” – a parable of the world, where innocence is adrift and most people will stoop to anything to get what they want – money, sex and high status – I think in that order.

Becky and her friend Amelia (Joey Parsons) are graduating finishing school where Becky’s been a charity case and thus exploited and badgered by a nasty school mistress — and readily giving it back in spades. Becky, slated to become a governess, a mighty humiliation for a finishing school girl, is invited to stay at Amelia’s fine house where she encounters her first rich man, Amelia’s  absurdly dull brother (Brad Heberlee). In no time she focuses her allure on him, and there’s the first of her seductions which make the play go round!

But oh fortune-hunters:  beware of second sons.  After many goings-on, Becky and her husband – she married Rawdon Crawley (Tom O’Keefe), second son of a family that employed her – are living a fashionable life but on what funds, since Rawdon was disinherited by his rich aunt (Zachary Fine, again), when she learned he married Becky. The couple is living the high life — on credit.  As the bills pile up, Becky’s solution is a liaison — “unconsummated” — with a rich marquis but her plan backfires. Rawdon, believing her unfaithful and unwilling to get him out of debtor’s prison, leaves her, and so begins her downward fall into degradation.  She redeems herself in a way, and that involves the parallel story of the good girl, Amelia, her losses, and her gains.

Thackeray framed the novel as a puppet play, a device that the playwright, like the novelist, exploits for its all-the-world’s-a-stage philosophical impact.  Becky is a complex character of mixed motives and a subtle mind.  The rest are exaggerated types, the domineering aristocratic father-of-the-family, the disappointing sad-sack son, the nasty rich aunt, the lecherous marquis, and so on.

The pace is hectic and parts are played broadly – recalling Thackeray’s conceit of the puppet show.  A lot’s always going on: the first act is somewhat disjointed and the second act has clearer dramatic force.  The actors play their type roles true-to-form, driving home with humor the ritual-like inevitabilities of the lust for wealth, sex and status.  Debargo Sanyal, playing several roles as most of the actors do, wittily works his jaw as if its attached to his face with a wooden hinge, exactly like a puppet!  It’s quite a feat, and heightens the stylistic strength of the production.

Miss Hamill has discovered the Berthold Brecht in Thackeray — in Vanity Fair’s frank display of social inequity, individual self-interest, hypocrisy, degradation and stubborn belief in innocence, colored by hyper-theatricality and ironic sense of inevitability.

Vanity Fair, directed by Eric Tucker, plays at the Pearl Theatre Co. on West 42nd Street in Manhattan through May 27, 2017.  For more information and tickets, click here.

The playwright ponders ... Pierre Corneille by an unknown 17th century artist. Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

Review | The Liar | By David Ives | Adapted from Corneille’s play Le Menteur | Directed by Michael Kahn | Classic Stage Company

… bold brilliance …

This play is for everybody who loves words, word play, unexpected puns and rhymes of an unbound imagination.  It’s hilarious –and expands one’s sense of the English language.

People like to make a distinction between “plot driven” stories and “character driven” stories – this adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s play by David Ives is “word driven.”  If you’re going to enjoy it, it will be because you love the fancies words can spin, the hilarities they can spring on you, and above all the deep down satisfying pleasure of big warm laughs, one after the other.

The playwright ponders ... Pierre Corneille by an unknown 17th century artist. Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

The playwright ponders … Pierre Corneille by an unknown 17th century artist. Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

Corneille, whose life spanned most of the 17th century, is the father of both the great tradition of French tragedy and comedy.  For Voltaire, Corneille had shown that the French language could be a medium for great art, as Homer had done for ancient Greek, though subsequently Voltaire altered his views.  Le Menteur premiered in 1644,  Meet the big liar, Dorante, who starts us off by boasting of his military career in order to impress two women he meets in the Tuilleries in Paris.  The women – conveniently for farce – have names that sound alike, Clarice and Lucrece.  Even Dorante is mixed up about which is which.

What follows are mistaken identities and amusing confusions.  Dorante, thinking that he prefers Lucrece (no, he really prefers Clarice), initiates the lie that he is already married in order to avoid marrying Clarice – a lie that, as the truth snaps at his heels, he spins into ever more complicated twists and turns, the riotous inventions of a genius liar.  Clarice is engaged – secretly of course – to someone else, duels are arranged, the butler is involved with … as said, the plot is not so much the heart of the matter as the humor.

Michael Kahn has directed an able cast, with Christian Conn as Dorante, Ismenia Mendes as Clarice, Amelia Pedlow as Lucrece, and others who share their perfect timing to fill out the humor.  I particularly loved Carson Elrod as Dorante’s bumpkin butler — naive but he learns fast.

This is the third of David Ives’ adaptations* that have appeared at Classic Stage:  the others are The Heir Apparent, adapted from Jean-Francois Regnard’s Le Legataire universel, seen at Classic Stage in 2014, and The School for Lies, adapted from Molière’s The Misanthrope in 2011.

Taking off from the original plots, David Ives adapts with his particularly liberated and fanciful language so that they are truly new creations, ones that in their way put us in closer touch with the spirit of the original plays, and the gaiety they brought to seventeenth-century theater-goers, than a more “faithful” translation could give.  Through Ives’ bold brilliance, we share the joy inherent in these wonderful comedies.  I count it as one of the great good fortunes to live within range of that theater treasure — Classic Stage Company – and to have seen these plays.

Of the three, The School for Lies, was, well, the funniest – simply over-the-top, unforgettable – one of the rare times I’ve seen a play twice in one run, partly because of Molière’s vivid characters and partly because it featured, among other fine actors, the incomparable Hamish Linklater. But all bear the mark of Ives’ wit, uninhibited imagination, civilized perspective, and joie de vivre.  It’s a privilege to have seen all three of these Ives’ creations.

It’s a privilege to see The Liar.

The Liar plays at Classic Stage Company in Manhattan’s East Village through February 26, 2017.  For more information and tickets, click here.

* Classic Stage also produced Ives’ profound play about Spinoza, The New Jerusalem, and the  popular play Venus in Fur which opened there before moving to Broadway (as well as two others I haven’t seen).

Benjamin Eett as the Mariner. Photo Carol Goldfarb

Review | Albatross | By Matthew Spangler and Benjamin Evett | Starring Benjamin Evett | Inspired by “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge | 59E59 Theaters

“Sometimes there is no why … ” The Mariner

In Albatross, Benjamin Evett gives us a surpassing performance in a magnificent play.

Alone on the stage, Benjamin Evett contends with the wind and waves, the details of his ship’s rigging, loneliness, madness, thirst, hunger, loss, memories, yearnings, cruelty, and the guilt of having caused the arbitrary death of an innocent, friendly creature.  His is an ultimate human voyage.  We are lucky to have so compelling an actor as Evett to take us on this journey:  he keeps us tight beside him all the way.

Benjamin Evett as the Mariner. Photo Carol Goldfarb.

Benjamin Evett as the Mariner. Photo Carole Goldfarb.

This play seeks to tell us the whole story of the Mariner, what it was really like – what Coleridge’s Romantic poem didn’t tell us.  We learn how the Mariner came to go on the voyage in the first place, and what happened after.  Albatross conveys more fully and in specific detail the true brutality of life on an eighteenth-century ship and, going beyond Coleridge’s narrated events, it finds the words to convey the Mariner’s intense inner experiences.

The charming, humorous, weary Mariner begins by hoisting the patched, time-worn sails of the ship, which forms the time and journey evocative setting for the play, and he introduces the mysterious fact that he has told this tale many times over the centuries, and will tell it again.

Before the fateful voyage, the Mariner, by profession a ship’s navigator, was living in shabby circumstances with his wife, whom he was sick of, and his beloved young son, feverish with an unknown illness.  A trip to the pub, a drunken evening, and he’s shanghaied on to the ship of Black Dog, who’s as brutally cruel a captain as has ever been written. “Even the Spanish Inquisition,” the Mariner tells us, “was no match for Black Dog!”  Well, it depends how you feel about people who bite off noses.

Out of Bristol, England, the ship sails south until, chasing a mysterious Spanish galleon, it sails farther than intended, farther south than any ship has ever reached. Our Mariner has lost the way.  The ship’s crew find themselves locked within icy walls “on the bottom of  the goddamn world,” facing a frozen death.  But a great bird with a wing span of 12 feet, an albatross, appears, and leads them them out of their icy rimed trap (a “rime” it turns out, is also a white icy crust that forms in a fast freeze).  The Mariner feeds the albatross, the bird comes every day.  “Days go by an’ he becomes like … a little part’ a me” as his son had been a part of him.  Then,  one day, off-duty, on deck taking target practice with his bow, he turn, shoots and kills the albatross.

Benjamin Eett as the Mariner. Photo Carol Goldfarb

Benjamin Evett as the Mariner. Photo Carole Goldfarb

Immediately afterwards he pleads to understand, “Why?  WHY?  WHY?  TELL ME WHY?”

Ice and fire — now sailing north out of the trap, the ship is becalmed under a blazing sun and the men become desperate for water.  Half mad with thirst, they encounter, again, a Spanish galleon with only two figures aboard, playing dice: Death, a man, and Life-in-Death, a woman.  You might say Death wins because the 200 men on the mariner’s ship shortly die of thirst, but Life-in-Death claims she’s the winner because she wins the fate of the Mariner: he will never die, his penance for his crime against nature will never be fulfilled, and he must live to tell and retell his story through the centuries.  And he has yet to get home.

It’s a tragic story with a possible, ambiguous redemption – redemption here less clear than in Coleridge’s poem.

What courage to take on a famous, iconic poem, what confidence of vision! These contemporary authors meet that challenge fully. This play is written with a passionate, raw, vernacular poetry of its own that makes the telling of the story near-to-overwhelming.  As the Mariner suggests, Coleridge’s rhyming verses muffle grim realities.  Great for its time, but “Industrial revolution.  Global Imperialism.  World Wars.  Cold Wars.  Cyber Wars.  … Today,” the Mariner declares, “people want more.”

Albatross takes us on a journey in search of human nature, and Coleridge’s philosophical invention, the killing of the admirable bird, remains the creative nugget. The authors of Albatross share Coleridge’s frightening and only partly tempered view: humans are prone to destroy. The deathless Mariner continues to tell the story and the Albatross brings it up-to-date.  The play draws upon the pointless killing of the innocent creature to convey our contemporary situation where, it seems, the whole natural world has fallen victim to our species. (To the authors:  I’ll never forget that blue bottle cap.)

Albatross, with set design by Cristina Todesco, costumes by Frances McSherry, light and projections design by Garret Herzig and sound design by Rick Lombardo, is directed by Rick Lombardo, and produced by Michael Seiden.  Albatross plays at 59E59 Theaters in mid-town Manhattan through February 12, 2017.  For more information and tickets, click here.

Life is for Living, Conversations with Coward, 59E59Theaters December 13, 2016 - January 1, 2017 Noel Coward cabaret evning

Review | Life is for Living | Conversations with Coward | Simon Green with David Shrubsole | 59E59 Theaters

… cabaret with Coward …

Not so much “conversations” with Noel Coward — think cabaret.

Life is for Living, Conversations with Coward, 59E59Theaters December 13, 2016 - January 1, 2017 Noel Coward cabaret evning

David Shrubsole on piano and Simon Green performing Life is for Living. Photo Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2016.

Seating is at intimate round tables.  Simon Green, tall, slim, totally charming and with a wonderful wry smile sings Noel Coward’s songs, with a few by other songwriters, and songs developed from some of his letters and other writings by Green and beautifully turned to music and played by the exciting pianist David Shrubsole.

What a civilized intimacy these performers create!  The cabaret mode is apt – there’s almost nothing Noel Coward, an actor and prolific and successful playwright, didn’t do in theater and that includes, in and around the 1j950’s famously appealing cabaret performances.

Particularly compelling is the way the darker shades of Coward’s spirit emerge. Though not to the manner born, Coward loved associating himself with the upper classes, and hobnobbing with others who were, at the time, at least as famous as he was.  He’s often thought of in terms of a style rather than substance, of surface rather than depth.  But in the choices of material, and in the nuance and ambiguity with which Simon Green delivers the songs, one glimpses more of Coward than the man with in the dressing gown, an elegant cigarette holder between his fingers.  Shading in a two-dimensional persona, they reveal Coward as a man of resonant and eerie depths.

Noel Coward's life ... not an open book. Simon Green singing in Life is for Living. Photo Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2016

Noel Coward’s life … not an open book. Simon Green singing in Life is for Living. Photo Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2016

A brilliant interlude is Green’s rendition of the song “I went to a Marvelous Party,” music and lyrics by Coward. The early incidents at the Gatsby-like party seem amusing – first we laugh, and then we laugh because we feel we should, but as successive vignettes become more exaggerated, with creep toward the grotesque, the tragic ironies emerge and our laughter stutters..

Green also takes on a few songs by others, including Irving Berlin and the Gershwins, and these immediately seem more musical and less philosophical than Coward’s songs.  I’m taking a guess, with some clues from the patter, that Green and Shrubsole hope Berlin’s and the Gershwins’ songs may seem lightweight compared to Coward’s, but oh no, that’s not the impact.  Berlin’s “Always,” the Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here To Stay” – these are superb here, delivered with Green’s particular delicate amusement, and elsewhere.

It takes some daring to juxtapose Coward “The Master,” as he’s called, with the masters. Taking on that challenge works – Green and Shrubsole illuminate the particular value of Coward’s talent and bring us the pleasures he holds in store for his listeners – a pleasure we wouldn’t have without them.

Life is for Living is a stimulating, thought provoking and delightful evening of cabaret.  Hearing what Noel Coward thinks, says and sings in his particular venue is a rare treat.

Simon Green performs, with David Shrubsole, Musical Director, at the piano.  The work was created and compiled by Green and Shrubsole, with research by Jason Morell.  It plays at 59E59 Theaters in Manhattan through January 1, 2017.  For more information and tickets, click here.


East meets West: rehearsing for Devdas in production of Hypokrit Theatre Company and Junoon Performing Arts

Review | Devdas & Chokher Bali | Indian Classics Reimagined | Directed by Arpita Mukherjee | Hypokrit Theatre Company and Junoon Performing Arts

Two Indian classics re-imagined 

First on the program,  Devdas (The Lover)  is a feast of dancing and music, choreographed with originality and variety by Swarali Karulkar, and with exciting music by Aalap Desai. The dancing blends  aspects of traditional Indian dancing with modern, contemporary pop, and ballet.   With the use of photo projections, the set shifts from visions of romantic and exotic beauty to stunning images of bare practice halls.  The costumes, too, blend contemporary western with a traditional Indian sense of  intense color and shine.  The stage is filled with dancing of high quality, filled with youthful energy and idealism.  It all comes together in a joyous, spirit-lifting performance.

East meets West: rehearsing for Devdas in production of Hypokrit Theatre Company and Junoon Performing Arts

East meets West: rehearsing for Devdas.

Devdas is based on a novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, written in Bengali in 1917.  The plot is a complicated tale of love, rivalry, passion and loss and unless you know the story in advance, you won’t catch on to the narrative details through this dance performance but the emotional truths in the individual episodes come across.

This re-imagination transforms a rivalry among women for love of a man into a competition for “Best Dancer in India.”  All the dancers in the program are professional and fine to watch:  Adam Bourke as Mr X is exceptionally dynamic, and Sonia Mukerji as Paro gives us gorgeous glimpses of classical Indian dance.  Swarali Karulkar, the choreographer, performing Chanda whose heart is set on winning the prize, is sensational.

Second on the program is Chokher Bali (The Passion Play), a drama adapted by Partha Chatterjee from Rabindranath Tagore’s novel, with musical direction by Shubhra Prakash and choreography by Rujuta Vaidya.  The title means “sand in the eye,” that is, a constant irritant, referring to the rivalry of two women who become friends in the course of the play and rivals for the love of the same man.

The story is clear in Chokher Bali, even to the uninitiated, and the intermittent use of western pop music to convey emotional situations is effective.  Generally, the play is diffuse and not strong on dramatic tension, and the acting is uneven.

Produced by the Hypokrit Theatre Company and Junoon Performing Artsand playing at Theater for the New City through November 20, 2016, Devdas and Chokher Bali are each stand-alone productions and tickets can be purchased for each separately.  They can also be seen together, as I saw them, with tickets for the two available at a special combined price.  For more information, including performance schedules and tickets, click here.


My Fair Lady playing at Bay Street in Sag Harbor, L. I.

Review | My Fair Lady | Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner | Music by Frederick Loewe | Bay Street Theatre, Sag Harbor, Long Island

… great ….

This My Fair Lady is so good it made me feel that this wonderful show was even more marvelous than I thought.  I saw new things in it!  It’s thrilling!

Pygmalion and Galatea - Jean-Leon Gerome

Jean-Leon Gerome, French, Pygmalion and Galatea, 1890, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum, NYC,  photo commons.wikimedia.org {{PD-1923}}

My Fair Lady originates in the ancient myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who could never find the right woman to love. Finally he carved a sculpture of a woman so beautiful that, having created her form, he was filled with passionate desire and kissed her.  With his kiss – and thanks to intervention from the goddess Aphrodite — he felt the lips of the ivory image grow warm as the cheeks become rosy and the image took on the hues and feel of human flesh (I love the way this happens from top to bottom in the painting by Gerome  at left).  His ideal was transformed into a living woman. In terms of sexism, this lovely story is on a par with that one about Adam’s rib, though, unlike Adam and Eve, Pygmalion and his bride lived happily ever after.

With some transformations of his own, George Bernard Shaw took up the myth in his delightful play, Pygmalion, moving the story to early 20th century London, turning the sculptor into persnickety Henry Higgins, an expert on the English language, and turning the sculptor’s created beloved into Eliza Doolittle, a low-class girl with cockney speech eking out a living selling flowers whom Higgins’ transforms through his teaching into an elegant woman with upper class speech and elegance, whereupon he falls in love with her.

My Fair Lady, by Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (composer) is based on Shaw’s Pygmalion.  The authors draw upon Shaw’s characters and dialog, and create brilliant transpositions of scenes, new wit, and songs that capture the characters, their situations and their emotions with breathtaking aptness, humor and beauty.  The whole is directed with refreshing vivacity and dramatic truth by Michael Ardens.

Selling flowers around Covent Garden Theater, Eliza Doolittle lets out a howl when her flowers are toppled by the careless rich, bringing her – and her “dreadful” cockney vowels, to the notice of Professor Henry Higgins, the expert on English language.  Higgins (Paul Alexander Noland), disdainful at how most of the English speak (that song:  “Why Can’t The English learn to speak.  These verbal class distinctions by now should be extinct”), remarks to Colonel Pickering (Howard McGillin) that with training, he could transform even this wretched girl’s speech into upper class English.  No fool Eliza:  she arrives at his house the next day wanting lessons so she can sell flowers in a shop instead of on the street. Higgins bets with Pickering that with his training he’ll be able to pass her off as a duchess.  Thus begins Eliza’s training in “proper English.”

My Fair Lady playing at Bay Street in Sag Harbor, L. I.

My Fair Lady playing at Bay Street in Sag Harbor, L. I.

The enjoyable scene couldn’t be done better.  Kelli Barrett is an enchanting Eliza with a beautiful singing voice (“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”) and piquant acting.  Nolan is an appealing stuffed shirt with a fine voice as Higgins.   Pickering (McGillin) is the perfect straight-backed tweedy Englishman.   And it’s our good luck that John O’Creagh as Eliza’s boozing “amoral” father (“With A Little Bit Of Luck”) couldn’t be better.  Farther along in the show, his rendition of “Get Me To The Church On Time” is so ebullient, so charmingly reprobate, so set off by an alluring large man’s shuffle-dance, that one cannot ask for more delight in this world.

The show continues pitch-perfect, delicious, all one wants. Higgins pushes Eliza to the extremes of endurance and Eliza has the gumption and determination to keep trying, to keep working.  Pickering, and Higgins’ housekeeper Mrs. Pearce (Karen Murphy) attempt to moderate the strain on her but Higgins isn’t about to soften his regime.   Anyhow, they’re two of a pair, aren’t they? – both unstoppable, working through the night.   Until that marvelous moment comes when Eliza gets it!

It’s all about vowels.  She finally in a sort of flash (hard-won flash) gets them right (“The Rain In Spain”), they are thrilled and so are we by the celebratory explosion of joy, they are in love – he may not know it but she pretty well does (“I Could Have Danced All Night”) and they try her new speech and ladylike poise at the tony horse races at Ascot in one of the funniest and most moving scenes in all musical theater.

Is the elegant, beautifully speaking Eliza taken for royalty at the ball?  Guess.  But the course of true love never runs smooth (in contrast with the myth), and Shaw introduced a clever and telling bump in the road.  It has to do with how when success finally arrives, the self-centered Higgins and Pickering congratulate themselves (“You Did It”) without it occurring  to them for a minute to congratulate the hard-working, hard-studying Eliza.  And Eliza is no sculptor’s passive ideal – she’s furious.

The cast, including the entire ensemble of singer-dancer-actors, is superlative.  Kelli Barrett is an even more wonderful Eliza Doolittle than Julie Andrews, I thought listening to the original cast recording a couple of days ago.   Barrett is lovelier and more sympathetic.  She adds to her beautiful voice, and dramatic strength an outstanding comic talent — what an expressive face!  She makes the brilliantly humorous scenes, such as that at the Ascot races, exquisitely funny.  As in, You’ve just gotta see this!

Paul Alexander Nolan as Henry Higgins also has his own hard act to follow since Rex Harrison, with his star power and unbeatable male maturity, created an iconic performance that’s hard to leave go.  Nolan succeeds in creating a more youthful, and energetic — if every bit as amusingly obtuse — Henry Higgins.  Not only that, Nolan’s strong singing voice brings out the full emotion dwelling in the great songs that chart the remarkable romance of Henry and Eliza — a huge bonus since Harrison wasn’t a singer.

As the love-lorn Freddy, Eynsford-Hill fills the theater with his beautiful voice singing “On The Street Where You Live.”  Carol Shelley as Henry Higgins mother  —  aristocrat through and through, and wise realist — has an arresting and charming stage presence.

The versatile, multi-level set enables some very effect interplay between what’s taking place front and center and what’s imagined.  When Henry Higgins, back  in his own sitting room, describes Hungarian rival in the science of phonetics, Zoltan Karpathy,  horning in on Eliza at the ball, Ryan Fitzgerald, zooming in from above as Karpathy does a gymnastic histrionic rendition of how he did it that’s as funny as anything in the show –and that’s saying a lot!

The only false note in this production comes at the very end, where the play has been revised to fit a contemporary feminist mode.  It’s a real let-down, as I felt, and heard on all sides as I left the theater.  A revision of this sort was totally unnecessary —  My Fair Lady is already feminist! And it has an ending that emerges organically from the vivid characters and the development of their relationship.  The show is much about making fun of the obtuse chauvinism of Higgins and Pickering and, when all is said and done, feisty and accomplished Eliza is the hero of My Fair Lady.

For the rest, this production of My Fair Lady is a gift of wit, joy, and great art.  Pure and simple, don’t miss it!

My Fair Lady plays at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, Long Island, NY through September 4, 2016.  For more information and tickets, click here.

Van Gogh's Street in Auers-sur-Oise from "Unfinished" exhibition at the Met Breuer, Metropolitan Museum of Art,

Review | Leonard Nimoy’s Vincent | With James Briggs as Theo Van Gogh | Directed by Dr. Brant Pope | Theatre at St. Clements

… the price of fame …

The idea is that Vincent van Gogh has recently died and his brother Theo, the art dealer who loved and supported that brilliant artist, was so overcome at the time that he’d been unable to speak at Vincent’s funeral.  It’s two weeks later, and Theo is impelled, now, to tell us what he thinks he knows about Vincent that others don’t. He thereupon sets out to tell us about Vincent’s early life, his development as an artist and his death by his own hand.  It’s hard to make any telling of Vincent’s life dull but that almost happens here because Theo’s recital stays on the surface of the facts as they’re known, and offers no special insight.

Van Gogh's Street in Auers-sur-Oise from "Unfinished" exhibition at the Met Breuer, Metropolitan Museum of Art,

Van Gogh, Street in Auvers-sur-Oise, 1890, painted shortly before his death there in July. Oil on canvas, Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki, in “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible,” at Metropolitan Museum Breuer, NYC through Sept. 18, 2016,  Photo MMA.

I say “almost” because van Gogh’s story is so saturated with drama that any account of his life, based largely on Vincent’s brilliant letters, is bound to have some stimulating moments.

For instance:  the audience seemed to catch its collective breath hearing that Vincent was born a year to the day after his mother had given birth to a stillborn son, who also had been named Vincent, so that the artist carried the name of his dead brother throughout his life.  If you didn’t know that – and even if you did – it’s startling.  The play takes up one way among many this has sometimes been considered, seeing a link in it to the theme of resurrection in van Gogh’s thinking and art.

And Vincent van Gogh’s self-defeating and troubled relationships with women including the prostitute Sien, described here in a straightforward way, are always interesting to contemplate.

But what did Theo have to tell us about Vincent that we didn’t know? That Vincent was “not mad.”  Theo emphasizes instead that van Gogh was sick, referring to the diagnosis of epilepsy Vincent received during his lifetime.  For most (though not all) who have considered this, myself included, there’s no argument that Vincent suffered from epilepsy, but what Theo has to say is simplistic, because Vincent’s difficulties went beyond any single diagnosis.

With Vincent van Gogh, there are always multiple causations one can bring to bear in trying to explain his eccentricities, difficulties getting along with others, bizarre behavior, and great suffering.  Dead brother, depressed mother, epilepsy, alcohol, paint fumes, cigarettes, religious alienation, developmental issues, etc.  It’s particularly characteristic of van Gogh that where any one explanation would be plenty to do the job, there are several!  There are disagreements about their various impacts, but it’s over simple to “blame” it all on epilepsy.  And whatever the “madness” may have been, there was probably a dose of that too.

With the charismatic and talented Leonard Nimoy in the role of Theo, the pedestrian character of the script might have been more masked.  Briggs works hard to insert “passion” into the narration, as when he shows us Vincent as a preacher delivering his powerful “stranger on the earth” sermon, but one feels the strain on his capacity as an actor.  With an underlying western accent, and contemporary mannerisms, he’s also unconvincing as a sophisticated European of the late 19th century art world.

The set includes the study of the citified art dealer Theo van Gogh on one side, and Vincent’s more rustic room on the other, with Theo ranging between them.  The floor boards on Theo’s side are varnished and those on Vincent’s side unfinished – a nice touch.  The projection of van Gogh’s paintings onto the back of the set, as if in an enlarged frame, is less successful because the poor quality of the slides does not do justice to the paintings, which come off looking like flat posters.  And it’s just a plain wrong idea to at times manipulate the paintings so they or parts of them are projected backwards.

As the person in the seat next to mine said on leaving, “Well, I learned something.”  But that’s about it.  Which is worth something, but not all that we look for in theater.

Leonard Nimoy’s Vincent produced by Starry Night Theater Company, a play that has toured in other cities, plays in Manhattan at the Theatre at St. Clements on West 46th Street through June 5, 2016.  For more information and tickets, click here.

C. Walker, Jr. as Mondego & Tom Frank as Monte Cristo in Jared Reinmuth's Monte Cristo, at Urban Stages in NYC Jan 22 - Feb 13, 2016

Review | Monte Cristo | By Jared Reinmuth | Directed by Cailin Heffernan | Urban Stages

… epic fun …

This is a rich, epic play, adapted from Alexandre Dumas’ novel of 1844, The Count of Monte Cristo.   It’s spectacular – filled with characters, color and events, the most intense emotions of love and revenge, moving through time and space forward as well as backward through memory.

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