Home / Tag Archives: editorial

Tag Archives: editorial

Theatre Review: “Jerry’s Girls”

Can’t get tickets to Hello, Dolly? Well for the rest of this week, you can hear all of the major songs from that show sung beautifully, plus just about every other great song Dolly composer Jerry Herman wrote, in the York Theatre’s “Musicals in Mufti” presentation of Jerry’s Girls, a revue of Herman’s best, designed for a trio of women. “Mufti” refers to “everyday clothes,” and this series from the York presents worthy but neglected musicals of the past in something between a staged reading and a full production, in rehearsal clothes with script in hand, minimal rehearsal and no design elements. The stellar trio in this production are Stephanie D’Abruzzo (Avenue Q), Christine Pedi (Forbidden Broadway) and Stephanie Umoh (Ragtime...

Read More »

Cabaret Review: Annie Ross

This lady is a legend in jazz for her vital part in developing the bop-influenced art called vocalese, which Wikipedia describes as “a style or musical genre of jazz singing wherein words are sung to melodies that were originally part of an all-instrumental composition or improvisation.” There’s not a lot of vocalese in her act these days, but she’s still a sharp, smart interpreter of standards, as well as bebop specialty material on subjects like marijuana and meatballs. Ross still possesses a smoldering charisma and confidence, as well as an unfailingly swinging sense of rhythm. Plus, she’s a fine musical storyteller; her rendition of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” covers many more shades of emotions than most versions, passing from...

Read More »

Cabaret Review: Tovah Feldshuh

Smart, skillful shtick and schmaltz in service of sharp storytelling. Tovah Feldshuh’s current cabaret act at Feinstein’s / 54 Below, entitled “Aging Is Optional,” pulls together a diverse set of songs and character bits in service of the theme of staying young throughout your life. For starters, she gives an emotional account of Dar Williams’s “When I Was A Boy,” suggesting that few things age you prematurely more than too-rigid gender roles. Feldshuh’s sweet spot is a rich mix of deeply felt sentiment and willfully zany shtick. Previous acts of Tovah’s have felt a little random in the way they mix these two modes, but “Aging Is Optional” is a well-oiled machine, truly sophisticated in the way it approaches its subject...

Read More »

Cabaret Review: John Pizzarelli

This is “too marvelous for words”: John Pizzarelli, top exponent of cabaret’s jazzier side, plays a show composed only of songs written by Johnny Mercer, arguably the greatest lyricist of the Great American Songbook. And, as always, he does it with astonishing elan and profound musical intelligence. John’s guitar style is amazingly fluid and elegant, with nonpareil mastery of a technique called “guitar harmonics” that produces high notes of extraordinary expressiveness. For Mercer’s “Skylark” he plays an entire melodic line in harmonics, which is not only very unusual (and I’m guessing difficult), but very beautiful and quite evocative of birdsong. Pizzarelli is also a great interpretive artist in more ways than one. He has a particular genius for chordal improvisations, finding hidden musical...

Read More »

Cabaret Review: John O’Hurley

This man has a finely tuned sense of the absurd, but he’s also capable of sincerity so complete that it’s almost embarrassing. Best known as J. Peterman on the NBC sitcom Seinfeld and as a champion on Dancing with the Stars, the early decades of O’Hurley’s career saw him as a fixture of daytime TV soap operas. More recently, he has spent a lot of time playing Billy Flynn in Broadway’s Chicago. Frankly, I think he’d be a revelation in something by Samuel Beckett, but maybe that’s just me. His current club act at the Café Carlyle is called “A Man with Standards” a reference both to growing up in a more sentimental time, and to the Great American Songbook...

Read More »

Opera Review: “Idomeneo”

The first of Mozart’s operas written entirely during his adulthood, Idomeneo is a nod to an older, now unfairly ignored, operatic form, opera seria, that was undergoing intense reform at the time (1781). But it also includes innovations that point towards later Romanticism, a style that forms the core of the operatic standard repertoire as we know it today. It connects what was glorious about both ages of opera, and is a great musical glory itself. The gorgeous treatment it is currently being given at the Met under conductor James Levine’s still powerful baton – as well as the always-magnificent Met Chorus under Donald Palumbo – is a must-hear. Is it a must-see? Well, the production by the late director Jean...

Read More »

Theatre Review: “Stuffed”

Fat, feminist, funny. In comedian Lisa Lampanelli’s first play Stuffed, it’s that last word that’s key. I’ve worked in feminist theatres, I’ve written for gay publications for a long time, so I can confirm that, just as the title of Susie Orbach’s 1978 landmark book says, Fat Is A Feminist Issue. I’ve seen and worked on many shows that address how fat-shaming is used to oppress women, and how women negotiate their relationships with food and weight. Of all of them, Stuffed is far and away the funniest treatment of this important issue that I’ve ever seen, and that’s a very good thing. Right from the beginning, director Jackson Gay’s staging lets us know that this is...

Read More »

Opera Review: “L’Amour de Loin”

Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s much-praised 2000 opera has a darkly shimmering beauty to it, and director Robert Lepage has created a gorgeous production for its Met premiere that leans powerfully into that shimmering quality. Lepage and set designer Michael Curry have draped strip after strip of LED lights across the immense Met stage. With those strips, “lightscape image designer” Lionel Arnould paints constantly shifting washes of color that vary from evocative abstractions to almost realistic representations of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, and suits Saariaho’s music to a “T”. There’s precious little to the plot of L’Amour de loin. Very loosely based on the legend of French troubadour prince Jaufré Rudel (c. 1100-c. 1147), it tells of Jaufré’s idealized love...

Read More »

Theatre Review: “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”

This tops many outlets “Best of 2016” lists, and is often compared favorably with super-musical Hamilton in terms of innovation and sheer vivacity. What do I think of it? Well, similar to the way I feel about Hamilton, I at least really enjoyed it about as much as everyone else. As for innovation, well, this sort of thing has been done a lot before, especially in the 1970s, though I can’t deny the dexterity of execution here far exceeds anything I’m aware of in this vein. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is composer / writer Dave Malloy’s inspired, stylistically eclectic musical adaptation of a 70-page slice of Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel of Russia under attack from Napoleon, War and Peace (some...

Read More »

Cabaret Review: Norm Lewis

This Christmas cabaret is one of the more conventional ones I’ve seen this year – and that’s entirely a good thing. In the spirit of his own favorite singer, Johnny Mathis, Norm Lewis’s show leans into holiday fun and warmth. It’s not an entirely shallow show – there are dark shadows here and there – but the emphasis is on Christmas’s pleasures and joys. And it’s not strictly a Christmas show. He opens with a frisky “My Favorite Things” – so frisky in fact that he slightly lost track of the lyrics “First night people, first night!” he said with a big ingratiating grin. Lewis assays “Fever”, which Peggy Lee made famous, but he gives it back some of the...

Read More »

Opera Review: “Salome”

Patricia Racette’s assured performance in the title role is the main reason to catch the Met’s current revival of Richard Strauss’s 1905 opera Salome. It is a musically complex and demanding role, so it’s no small feat that Racette makes it look and sound easy. The role also covers a lot of vocal range, and Racette rumbled at the bottom and roared at the top, with no sign of strain at either end. Based on Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play of the same name, Salome tells of the titular stepdaughter of the tetrarch Herod Antipas, who requests the head of John the Baptist (here called “Jochanaan”) on a silver platter as a reward for granting Herod’s request that she perform “the dance of the...

Read More »

Theatre Review: Holiday Inn

This musical adaptation of the classic movie has a firm grip on character and themes, but it’s a bit loosey-goosey when it comes to weaving a coherent plot. And it is so not a big deal: Holiday Inn combines Irving Berlin songs with heart and smarts, and that alone makes me happy. The various plot holes are a minor annoyance, at worst. Like the film, the musical tells the story of Jim (Bryce Pinkham), who leaves his little corner of show business – a small club in Flatbush – to settle down at a farmhouse in Connecticut. Jim meets Linda (Lora Lee Gayer), who inspires him to bring a little bit of show biz to the farm, by turning it into an inn specializing in...

Read More »

Theatre Review: “Heisenberg”

When looking for someone to adapt his novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon specifically sought out playwright Simon Stephens because of his “heart of flint.” That captures Stephens’s cool and clear-eyed observation of people with all their flaws, but it misses the underlying optimism in his writing that creates such an exciting tension with his flinty surfaces. His specific brand of guarded optimism was indeed exactly what was needed for Curious Incident, and is once again on surprisingly heartening display in his own play Heisenberg. In a London train station, Georgie (Mary-Louise Parker) spots Alex (Denis Arndt), a man several decades her senior, and plants a kiss on his neck. Nothing is quite as it seems...

Read More »

Theatre Review: “Oh, Hello”

It’s as if The Odd Couple were written by the darkest comedic writers of the 1970s Saturday Night Live (Michael O’Donoghue springs to mind). In one of many semi-improvised sequences, somebody brings up the subject of a night off on Broadway – called a “dark night” – and one of the characters offers “Yeah, a ‘dark night’ for us means when we start making jokes about strangling hookers.” The character in question is septugenarian George St. Geegland (John Mulaney), a gleefully mean-spirited and perhaps murderous writer, who has been roomates for 40-some years with hapless, shlubby and sometimes childish actor Gil Faizon (Nick Kroll). Oh, Hello is essentially these two oversized, very New York characters granting us an audience for around...

Read More »

Opera Review: “Don Pasquale”

Of Donizetti’s comedies, I think I like Don Pasquale the best. I mean, it’s still a little too light for me, it doesn’t glitter like Rossini’s La Cenerentola or have the rich complexity of Verdi’s Falstaff. But it does dig ever so slightly deeper than the main line of 19th Century Italian opera buffa, and reaps the benefits both dramatically and musically. Don Pasquale tells the story – as old as comedy itself, stretching back to the ancient Greeks – of clever young people tricking a blustery old man into letting them have their romantic way. Except in this one, that old man isn’t just the usual angry caricature, he’s genuinely a bit sad about where he’s at in...

Read More »

News: Lypsinka sings! Out of drag at Joe’s Pub today and Wednesday

In an evening that encompasses a personal and rarified experience of moving to and living in New York City, John Epperson – the real person behind Lypsinka – will take the stage in John Epperson: The Artist Principally Known as Lypsinka for four nights only at Joe’s Pub at The Public. With a nod to the urbane cabaret style of Bobby Short, Epperson’s evening embraces classic entertainment filled with stories, tunes, and a few surprises. The entertainer, aka The Goddess of Showbiz Lypsinka, commands the piano and stage with a musical journey that weaves together Stephen Sondheim, Frank Loesser, Jule Styne, Kay Thompson, Kander & Ebb, Comden & Green, Rodgers & Hammerstein, and transgender icon Christine Jorgenson. Jay Rogers directs the limited engagement show which takes place...

Read More »

Theatre Review: “Fully Committed”

Jesse Tyler Ferguson has always balanced sweet likability with just a dash of acidic bite, and both qualities serve him well in Fully Committed. He brings a lot of warmth when he plays the central character Sam, a reservationist at one of New York’s trendiest restaurants. He also plays all of the people calling the restaurant – more than 40 in all – and has plenty of opportunity to display that comedic acidity playing the more venomous callers. That sweetness and acidity come together deliciously when Sam slyly gets back at some of his oppressors. Ferguson isn’t afraid to go over the top when the character calls for it, and throws himself into the whole affair with great energy and elan, but every moment stays rooted...

Read More »

Theatre Review: “Waitress”

Pop-rock singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles has succeeded where several of her Billboard chart colleagues have failed – she has written the score for a musical that is not only catchy and tuneful, but also serves the storytelling in a coherent and cogent way. Waitress tells the story of Jenna (the ever-luminous Jessie Mueller), a waitress and expert pie maker in a small southern town, who married far too young to a man she doesn’t love. Can she escape him, and if so, how? Both the character of Jenna and Bareilles’s rich and zesty songs are terrific vehicles for Mueller’s detailed, heart-felt acting and liquid gold voice. Her Jenna feels incredibly approachable – she feels like an earth mother in spite of...

Read More »

Theatre Review: “Bright Star”

Affable and inoffensive – those are the adjectives that leap to mind when thinking about the Steve Martin / Edie Brickell bluegrass musical Bright Star. It’s a perfectly pleasant evening in the theatre, but on a Broadway musical landscape populated by big, brassy entertainments on one hand, and fresh, innovate think pieces on the other, it may have a difficult time keeping it’s darling little head held high. Bright Star tells the story of Alice Murphy, a North Carolina literary editor. When she encounters an aspiring young author – a small town soldier just home from World War II – a chain of events is set in motion that take Alice back to the best and worst moments of her own youth. The best thing about...

Read More »

Theatre Review: “Old Hats”

Rubber-limbed clown Bill Irwin was one of the biggest successes to come out of the “New Vaudeville” of the ’70s & ’80s. Around the time he joined forces with fellow clown David Shiner in the early ’90s for Fool Moon, the “New Vaudevillians” had done their work, and you could do straight-up vaudeville (no “New”) – much as has happened with burlesque since. So in Old Hats, Irwin and Shiner combine bits with roots going back to the 19th Century to a brand-spanking-new routine involving an iPad for Irwin. Seems Irwin’s image on his device sometimes gets the better of the real person! Long gone are any pretensions to High Art. This is not to say Old Hats is...

Read More »

Theatre Review: “Disaster!”

When the willfully silly Disaster! is funny, it’s one of the funniest shows in town. Plus, you will simply not hear the 1970s disco and pop rock songs that make up its score sung better anywhere – in some cases they outshine the original. Broadway musician and comedian Seth Rudetsky got together with director Jack Plotnick to write this loving tribute to disaster movies of the 1970s (The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, etc.). They’ve added an extra thick layer of camp, making Disaster! musically to 1970s pop rock what Rock of Ages is to hair metal. Rudetsky also plays “disaster expert” Ted, who everybody thinks is crazy for predicting Manhattan’s first floating casino and discotheque is destined for all kinds of trouble...

Read More »

Theatre Review: “A View from the Bridge”

I liked this as well as I could. Ivo von Hove is a very thoughtful director, but he’ll never be my favorite. Arthur Miller isn’t my favorite classic American playwright, and this isn’t even my favorite play of Milller’s. Hove’s production of Miller’s A View from the Bridge, is, however, the most lucid work I’ve seen from this sometimes opaque auteur director. It’s rock-solid theater for sure, but not quite up to the mark of director Gregory Mosher’s production a few seasons back. What irks me most about this play is its strong strain of homophobia. When Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone, the protagonist of A View from the Bridge, says that Rodolpho, a fresh-off-the-boat...

Read More »

Theatre Review: “The Humans”

This is a major play, no doubt about it, but what a lot of critics and commentators seem to have missed is what a deeply political play it is. It focuses on the Irish-American Blake family, who have come to youngest daughter Brigid’s (Sarah Steele) sketchy tenement Chinatown apartment (a “duplex” by virtue of extending into a basement) to celebrate Thanksgiving. All of them are dealing with serious problems of one sort or another, which they face with a mix of willful but warm good humor and stoic endurance. What struck me was the lack of any social safety net to help them with their problems. Even the arguably most affluent family member, lawyer sister Aimee (Cassie Beck), has no defense against being fired for...

Read More »

Opera Review: “Maria Stuarda”

Bravissima, Radvanovsky! This season Sondra Radvanovsky is proving her bel canto mettle by playing a trio of Tudor queens with starring roles in three operas by Gaetano Donizetti. This month, she plays the lead role in Maria Stuarda, better known in the English-speaking world as Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s a wonderful vehicle for her enormous, soaring, shimmering, effortless coloratura; this surely puts her in opera’s very highest circle of stars. The opera gives us a highly fictionalized version of the final days of Mary Stuart, held prisoner by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. It follows Friedrich Schiller’s play of the same name in inventing a meeting between the two that never happened. Also, much is made of a supposed love between Elizabeth&#...

Read More »

Opera Review: “Tosca”

New York City Opera is back! I have a personal reason for being excited – by the time I started reviewing opera in fall of 2013, their previous incarnation had already closed up shop and filed for bankruptcy, and I had definitely wanted to cover them. Plus, it’s just plain nice to have a middle-sized company, between the obligatory grandeur of the Met and the scrappy inventiveness of the indie opera companies dotting the city landscape. This Tosca is staunchly traditional: it replicates the sets and costumes by Adolfo Hohenstein from the opera’s premiere production in 1900. Stage director Lev Pugliese may or may not be making an effort to replicate Nino Vignuzzi’s original staging; he certainly steers the staging to hit all the marks...

Read More »

Cabaret Review: Tommy Tune

This cabaret act is a testament to what a good director Tommy Tune is – and before you ask, yes, I do mean that as a compliment. Singing was never his leading talent, although he’s just fine at it, thank you. No, this club act makes it clear that it’s more about how he frames things. And the frames are many: his angular shoulders and elbows, eccentric lighting cues which were clearly designed according to his specifications, the song selection (not a single ballad thank you), his tap dancing in almost every number. The songs are all familiar standards, but Tune’s long-time music director Michael Biagi drops in quotations from other music – a little “Rhapsody in Blue” here, a little Chicago there...

Read More »

Theatre Review: “Hamilton”

This is above all an excitingly ambitious musical, all the more exciting because it sets its sights very high and more often than not hits its mark. It’s a hip-hop-centric evocation of Alexander Hamilton, who was chief wartime staff aide to George Washington, an influential promoter of the U.S. Constitution (in his Federalist Papers), founder of the nation’s financial system, and the founder of the Federalist Party, the world’s first voter-based political party. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics (those I could make out – more on that shortly) are stunningly smart, funny and well-crafted, and as a composer he has a terrific ear for melody, as well as rhythmic and harmonic “hooks.” As contemporary as the show’s...

Read More »