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

Tag: musical

Review | Found: A New Musical | Directed by Lee Overtree | Based on the Found Books and Magazines by Davy Rothbart | Music and Original Lyrics by Eli Bolin | Book by Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree | Atlantic Theater Company

… found objects … 

Found is a charming, touching musical with lots of big laughs, beautifully performed.

It turns out there’s really a magazine, Found, that collects bits and pieces and scraps of writing — “love letters, birthday cards, kids’ homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, receipts, doodles”  — and now there’s a totally delightful musical based on them.

A couple of original and independent-minded young people in need of jobs — but ones with meaning — come up with the idea of creating the magazine based on what turns out to be powerful emotional flotsam and jetsam.  Davy first recognizes the impact of these notes.  His is the original bright idea and his buddies Mikey D and Denise are in on getting the magazine going, encouraging him and doing a lot of the work — Denise quits her job to help him create the magazine — FOUND.  Success is followed by temptation in the form of an aspiring press agent from the West Coast, glamorous Kate beckoning with a plan for big money to be made with a FOUND TV program.  But the TV offer comes with strings attached, challenging the idealism – the purity — of the original vision.  How will this play out?

It plays out on a marvelously conceived set by David Korins, a wallpaper created out of the various pieces of paper, lined and unlined, ad hoc and fancy, intact and torn — an agglutinative compendium of heartbreak and hope.  The show is rich with delightful songs that trace the story of creation of the magazine, the looming compromises that follow success, and the outcome, and — in a parallel that strengthens an otherwise cliche love triangle — the personal stories of creative and hedonistic Davy, earnest, independent Denise and glamorous  and fiscally motivated Kate.  Words from the notes filter in at emotional junctures and morph into the songs, startling and touching the heart.

Like the radiance discovered in the diverse notes, the performers, headed by Nick Blaemire as Davy, Barret Wilbert Weed as Denise, Betsy Morgan as Kate and Daniel Everidge as Mikey D, are varied in size, shape, gender and color, and are radiantly expressive and alluring.

The music is lovely if not overwhelming, the performers are excellent, the set is a work of art and the show’s hilariously funny.  And what underlies the show and gives it strength and meaning — and what I think is really its ticket to the list of American musicals that will be with us for a long time — is the revelatory power of the notes, and the respect and appreciation the show leads us to feel for these things that have been thrown away, these authentic expressions — as specific as they can be, and at the same time universal.

Found plays at the Atlantic Theater in Manhattan’s Chelsea district through November 9, 2014.

Review | Donnybrook! The Musical of the Movie The Quiet Man | Music and Lyrics by Johnny Burke | Book by Robert E. McEnroe | Directed by Charlotte Moore | Based on The Quiet Man, Short Story by Maurice Walsh | Irish Repertory Theatre

The world doesn’t need this musical.  Set in a fictional Irish village, Innisfree, in the 1920’s, it’s about the “cute Irish,” and their quaint ways including the great fun of settling conflicts with a brutal, free-for-all fight — a “donnybrook.”

The central idea, from Maurice Walsh’s 1933 Saturday Evening Post short story, is interesting — an Irish-American boxer, having killed a man and determined never to fight again, returns to his Irish village where he’s forced into a fight mandated by custom (the “donnybrook”) in order to uphold the honor of his village bride.

Sean, arriving in town, immediately falls in love with the feisty Mary Kate who immediately falls in love with him.  But Sean angers her brother, Will, by topping his bid for some land, so Will tries to prevent the marriage and –when it does take place through some chicanery — withholds Ellen’s dowry.  Sean doesn’t care about the money but — Irish custom — the dowry is bottom line, because it represents her honor.  When Sean refuses to fight Will for the withheld dowry, Mary Kate, with an implausible lack of interest in her beloved’s state of mind about fighting, resorts to sexual blackmail, refusing to consummate the marriage.  Through the machinations of a subplot things work out but not before there’s a — yes! — donnybrook, where Sean manages not to kill anybody including his wife’s brother — that would have been a problem — but the outcome is never in doubt, and we’re not really worried about this or anything in this show, in which the stereotype characters don’t engage ones concern.

The cast doesn’t have much to work with in these trite characters, although there are flashes of dramatic tension in James Barbour ‘s performance as the American boxer, particularly when he’s singing, but the show seems too small for him.

The songs and music, some traditional and others written for the show, are largely predictable although a few, such as “But Beautiful,” have more character and are familiar — the musical had a short run on Broadway in 1961.  The song “The Loveable Irish,” with its refrain “I hate the Irish,” is offensive;  Sean lists everything he finds wrong with the Irish until, at the end, he sings “but I’m Irish, too” as if that makes it OK to pour out so many negative stereotypes on a group of people, but it doesn’t.

Donnybrook! plays at the Irish Repertory Theatre in Manhattan’s Chelsea district through March 31. Extended through April 28th

Review | Working, A Musical | From the Book by Studs Terkel | Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso | Contributions by Gordo Greenberg | Prospect Theater Company | 59E59 Theaters

… singing about work …

People talked about working in Studs Terkel’s oral history book of 1974, Working:  People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do — in Working, the musical, they sing about it.

It’s a great idea — as composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz — of Godspell and Wicked —  thought when he first brought Working to the stage not long after the publication of Terkel’s book.  Revised and performed through the years, in its current version it’s an engaging and at times moving series of fine musical numbers (though I wish there were no rhymes, see below), beautifully performed by a cast of six who, all in all, take the parts of twenty-six characters and sing in the ensemble.

Working, A Musical | From the Book by Studs Terkel | Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso | Contributions by Gordo Greenberg | Prospect Theater Company | 59E59 Theaters


With the words taking the lead, as they should here, and with some excellent music by leading professional composers, we catch the poetry, the accuracy and the deep feelings behind what people said to Terkel:  a fireman (L), a felt dyer in a luggage factory (what a hard, messy, grinding job that is) , an interstate trucker, a cleaning lady, a housewife and others — now singing what they like and don’t like, and what meanings they find and don’t find — in their workaday work.  All except for Joe, retired, who has that to tell us about.  The performers segue in and out of their sung vignettes on the lower part of the handsomely designed stage as a fine foursome of musicians play behind a scrim above.

Work has ground down some of the workers:  through Marie-France Arcilla’s singing of the assembly line dyer of felt pads, I felt empathy with her, caught in a messy, exhausting trap.  Some workers are weary but Maggie Holmes (R), singing the cleaning lady, let me share her hope that there will be a better life for her daughter — to be addressed by her last name (I wondered how that daughter’s doing, 38 years later).  Jay Armstrong Johnson as the mason conveys an inspiring pride:  stone lasts, and leaves you “Something To Point To,” the title of the last — uplifting — song in the show.

Working, A Musical | From the Book by Studs Terkel | Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso | Contributions by Gordo Greenberg | Prospect Theater Company | 59E59 Theaters

On the other hand, Joe Cassidy, as the publicists who made more money than most, conveys the emptiness of not having anything to point to after years of work (maybe; it’s ambiguous).  Nehal Joshi (below L) gives an hilarious edge to the ex-newsroom assistant who makes plain to the audience what he himself can’t see, that is, why he can’t keep a job: in all his parts he touches the heart with his blend of sadness and wry humor.   Saving the best for last (my best but my friends had other favorites):  the performance of Donna Lynne Champlin (R) as the gutsy waitress proclaiming of her job, “It’s an Art;”  it’s memorable — a first rate musical theater moment.  (I looked after seeing the show and sure enough, that was one of the few songs written by Stephen Schwartz himself.)

Working, A Musical | From the Book by Studs Terkel | Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso | Contributions by Gordo Greenberg | Prospect Theater Company | 59E59 Theaters

Two things troubled me about this production, the microphones, and the rhymes.

These six performers are all fine singers and actors:  why oh why were they miked???  There’s no need for it — as professionals, they know how to make themselves heard.  (And the show is in a rather small theater.)  The microphones the performers wear diminish the sense of immediacy that draws one to “live theater:”

I found that the rhymes in the songs, though often clever, undercut the authenticity that Working depends on.  The strength of the show lies in our awareness that we’re hearing the very words spoken by real people from different walks of life — and real people don’t (at least not very often!) talk in rhymes.  Without that sense of the genuine, this already loosely jointed musical thins out toward a series of show songs.

Working, A Musical | From the Book by Studs Terkel | Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso | Contributions by Gordo Greenberg | Prospect Theater Company | 59E59 Theaters

Though it doesn’t quite gel as the unified musical the creators intend, Working is highly entertaining and satisfying, like an exceptionally varied and unusually thought provoking evening of cabaret.

Working, A Musical | From the Book by Studs Terkel | Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso | Contributions by Gordo Greenberg | Prospect Theater Company | 59E59 Theaters

Working plays in midtown Manhattan at 59E59 theaters through December 30, 2012.

Review | Odyssey, The Epic Musical | Matt Britten Director, Book and Lyrics | Dimitri Landrain Composer, Vocal Arrangements | Daniel Sefik Music Director, Additional Lyrics | Marianne Ward Set Designer, Scenic Paint Charge | Araca Project | American Theater of Actors

… a big musical on its way …

Odyssey calls itself an epic musical and it is.  It has the look of a musical headed to Broadway and — with some strengthening — it will get there. Meanwhile, it’s tremendous fun!

First of all, the set is gorgeous.  The show is playing in a fairly small theater but the stage is vast and the set uses all of it in a seemingly serendipitous, free flowing way to suggest the sea, the islands in it, the voyages across it, and the high realm of the gods and the earthy realm of humans.  It’s a set that conveys the complexity and exhilaration of existence – it’s wonderful, and keeps you on the journey even when occasionally the play gets a little waterlogged.  Nets, sails and figureheads — it has lots of blue and turquoise and one wants to be there.  (You can even get the flavor in the design of their web page.)

The show begins with a little boy reading the first lines of The Oydyssey where Homer invokes the Muse to sing to him Odysseus’ tale:  “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course … ” and the singing begins.  It’s very moving … and it ends with the boy and the book, too.  A beautiful frame.

The story takes Odysseus from the time he is a boy, and then a king of Ithaca, married to Penelope, through to the war at Troy, and like the Odyssey, the weight of the story is on Odysseus’ long voyage home, when he’s “driven time and again off course” into a serious of famous and wonderfully inventive adventures.  We visit the Cyclops’ cave, resist the Sirens (though the rest of Odysseus’ crew meets its end there), visit Circe’s magical island, and sojourn with the seductive nymph Calypso.

We also voyage with Odysseus through some adventures not part of Odysseus’ story, in particular a lengthy episode in which, because Athena has fallen in love with Odysseus, Zeus and the other gods offer him the gift of eternal life in a kind of rapturous Age of Aquarius scene.

The music is generic musical comedy, not very original, the only exception I noticed being the appropriately beautiful music of “Siren Song,” but the lyrics are often witty, intriguing and hilarious.  The musical number “Nobody,” a riff from Homer’s joke about how Odysseus tricked the Cyclops, is a show stopper [Odysseus told the Cyclops his name was “Nobody” so after Odysseus had stuck a poker in the monster’s one eye, the Cyclops cried out in useless vengeance “Nobody injured me!”]

For a stronger musical Odyssey, the character of Odysseus and the narrative as a whole need to be more consistent, and the hero less dithering.  Uncertainty may be a strength, but Odysseus looks inept rather than heroic in scenes such as that where his Ithacans look to him as their King to ease their current miseries, and the “clever Odysseus” has no resources to help them and not a clue what to do.  One senses in this instance the reason for including a crisis that isn’t in the Odyssey was to justify a very good song with a contemporary ring to it, “Everything to Fear.”  Even within this show’s narrative, it’s inconsistent because we see that Odysseus was in fact very rich – it takes decades for Penelope’s free loading suitors to make a dent in his grand estate, and still there’s plenty left.  This inconsistency among others weakens the believability and impact.

Other narrative decisions, such as the interloping “real life is better for mortals than eternal life” episode and related themes that run through the show seem governed by the desire to put across a world view.  The philosophy is trendy-murky and doesn’t derive from the characters.

There’s no reason why a creative team in 2011 working with the story of Odysseus that goes back to many centuries BC, have to include the most famous incidents in the Odyssey (although those who chose to come might be disappointed not to see what they expected — OK, fact is, I missed his sojourn with Nausicaa a lot!)

And I suppose (though, look, Homer did create a really great fundamental story, mess with it at your peril) that they’re free to include incidents that the Muse never got around to telling the Bard.  But such interpolations, like everything else in the story, need to flow within a consistent world view led by a consistently and plausibly developed character.

The plot of the musical hinges on Athena’s crush on Odysseus, but perhaps we could be given a little more clue as to why she is the goddess of wisdom.

It’s a big cast — 28 performers and several have multiple roles, and they’re very professional and charismatic.  Josh A. Davis as Odysseus leads the way through with strong acting and singing and goes a long way toward creating the sense of the whole.  Emma Zaks is a vigorous, adorable Athena.  Janine Divita brings a strong dramatic voice to Penelope.  Eddie Korbich is so funny as Poseidon you want to hug him!

Why mike these and other good singers, especially in a small theater?  They’d sound better without the electronic barrier.

Odyssey the Musical has begun its voyage: avoiding the self-indulgent seductions of the Sirens, chances look good for its making it to Broadway but as it launches from its off-off Broadway port, it’s already great fun.  It’s a short run — this time — but try to see it!!

Odyssey plays at American Theater of Actors on West 54th Street in Manhattan through October 30.

Josh Grisetti and the cast of Enter Laughing, The Musical.  Photo by Jerry Lamonica

Review | Enter Laughing, The Musical | Book by Joseph Stein | Music & Lyrics by Stan Daniels | Music Direction by Phil Reno, Music Arrangements & Orchestrations by Matt Castle | Direction & Musical Staging by Stuart Ross | Bay Street Theatre, Sag Harbor, Long Island

I never saw anything funnier than Enter Laughing. The situations are hilarious, the songs are witty, and the cast is out of sight perfect.  If you enjoy laughing, really, you have to see this.   It has  only one “message”:  the life-affirming power of pure fun.

Set in the 1930’s and based on Carl Reiner’s semi-autobiographical novel, Enter Laughing tells the story of David Kolowitz, a boy from the Bronx who aspires to be an actor against the wishes of his over-protective parents who are plotting his career as a pharmacist, “almost a doctor”.  Kolowitz, who’s given to fantasizing success and seeing his name in lights, is played by Josh Grisetti , a major talent and — it’s easy to see from this show — a star in the making:  he sings, he dances, he acts, and he is so funny.  David in the play, however, not only lacks talent but generally hasn’t a clue, yet somehow bumbles through to an onstage debut, bounding from stage fright to worldly pronouncements in the voice of Ronald Coleman.

He gets to kiss the girl, too, the show-girl gorgeous Kate Schindle playing Angela Marlowe, who delivers the tongue-in-cheek torch song, “The Man I Can Love,” with the absolute seriousness of true comedy from atop a piano, her feet entangled with the keys — one of many show stoppers. She has a liberated, to say nothing of open minded, view of the man she can love.

Richard Kind, surely one of the funniest men alive today (the others being Josh Grisetti and Geoffrey Rush) plays the theater impresario Harrison Marlowe, Angela’s father, with a combination of takes, timing, dead pan, and rational/nutty thought processes that’s delicious.  He’s fascinating — I could watch him forever.  I’d urge you to see this show if only to hear how he answers the phone as David’s butler when Greta Garbo calls (“The Butler’s Song”).

The singing and dancing of the two old guys in the play, David’s boss in the machine shop and his father, in their dual number, “Hot Cha Cha”, is  another — touching — show stopper.

And so it goes … hilarity after hilarity … witty song after song … and just when you’re feeling a little sorry it’s over too soon, Grisetti comes up with one more gift — his bow — so you can Leave Laughing.

Enter Laughing plays at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, Long Island, through September 4.

Enter Laughing, The Musical :  Richard Kind (standing) as Harrison Marlowe;  L-R, Erick Devine as Mr. Pike, Josh Grisetti as David Kolowitz, Kate Schindle as Angela Marlowe.  Photo by Jerry Lamonica

Enter Laughing, The Musical :  Richard Kind (standing) as Harrison Marlowe;  L-R, Erick Devine as Mr. Pike, Josh Grisetti as David Kolowitz, Kate Schindle as Angela Marlowe.  Photo by Jerry Lamonica

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