Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test

The Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test is our personal and highly opinionated Commuter's Guide to New York theater and cultural events, with an emphasis on Broadway and Off-Broadway theatrical productions. The test is simple: is an event worth the always expensive, time consuming, and too often horrendous struggle to commute to New York City from New Jersey, Long Island, Upstate New York or Connecticut? Only truly great or near-great performances and productions may meet this stiff challenge!

Location: Princeton, New Jersey, United States

James Camner is an antiquarian dealer of autographs, manuscripts and printed music and books of Opera, Classical Music, Theater, Dance, and Film, as well as a published author of more than 10 books on the performing arts including "How to Enjoy Opera" (Simon and Schuster), "The Great Opera Stars in Historic Photographs" (Dover), "Stars of American Musical Theater in Historic Photographs" (Dover - with Stanley Appelbaum); was for over 20 years a reviewer for Fanfare Magazine and has written feature articles and reviews for Opera News.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

One Man, Two Guvnors, a play by Richard Bean at the Music Box Theatre, directed by Nicholas Hytner, starring James Corden. The funniest play to hit the great White Way since La Bete, this phenomenal adaptation of a commedia del arte masterwork features James Corden who moves into Mark Rylance territory with hysterical over the top acting and comic humor, very heavy on the physical. The entire cast is superb. Along with Venus in Fur, Clybourne Park, and Porgy and Bess, this is the newest must see on Broadway right now. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade, A+

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a musical by Jule Styne at New York City Center Encores!
Megan Hilty steps into the considerable shoes of Carol Channing and Marilyn Monroe with an easy grace and tremendous comic style, the audience gleefully eats out of her hands. Make no mistake, the star of Smash, a much better singer than either Monroe or Channing is a stage star of the first order. A brilliant revival with unusually fine dancing. This one could transfer as is and run for a long time on Broadway.  Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A

Friday, April 27, 2012

Capsule Recommendations:

We've been unable to post until now, so we have some catching up to do. Here are some capsule recommendations:

Tribes at the Barrow St. Theatre.  Of everything onstage in New York, this is the play that is likely to remain in your memory. A+

Porgy and Bess.  Audra McDonald and the entire cast are sizzling. Historic!  A+

The Columnist at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Boring play by David Auburn,the author of Proof. C

Nice Work If You Can Get It, a "new" Gershwin Musical at the Imperial Theatre, directed by Kathleen Marshall, starring Kelli O'Hara and Matthew Broderick.

Last night we saw Nice Work If You Can Get It, the audience was in raptures, and so were we.

Is there any Broadway diva who is more beloved today than Kelli O'Hara? She manages to bring a vulnerability and sweetness to everything she does that is positively endearing.  She is also in her prime and is one of the finest singers on the boards today of the classic American songbook. Even in music that was composed for legendary stars like Andrews, Martin, Astaire, and Lawrence, she can make the music sound as if it was originally meant for her.

So when Kelli O'Hara is offered in a well mounted production in which she sings no less than ten Gershwin songs and duets I consider it mandatory to see it. Yes it's a must ticket, just for her and if she was all there was to Nice Work if You Can Get It, it would be more than enough to plunk down my hard earned cash.

But what is abundantly clear is that the main star isn't Kelli O'Hara it's Matthew Broderick. Broderick has been savaged by some critics and I can't understand why - he sings with skill and charm, he manages to more than hold his own in duets with O'Hara, he's right out of the classic 1920s and 30's "Silly Ass" tradition, and IMHO, his singing and singing style match up very well with some of the creators of the songs he sings. He's also immensely likeable and he's very funny.

What surprised me after reading the reviews and a few private emails from people I respect  is how much I ended up enjoying the entire show. First of all, the music is superbly arranged by David Chase, even the most familiar Gershwin pieces are fused into a remarkable whole. Nowhere is that more evident than in the duet made of two songs: By Strauss, and Sweet and Lowdown brilliantly sung by Michael McGrath and Judy Kaye who has a riotous field day channeling Margaret Dumont.

Joe DiPietro's book does a marvelous job of putting a more or less coherent plot on stage, the frothy charm wonderfully evokes the silly 1920's musicals that in themselves are apparently not revivable. Kathleen Marshall really delivers with her direction and clever choreography - I enjoyed it every bit as well as her revival of Anything Goes. The talented and beautiful chorus, the dancing, the staging, and the marvelous cast make it an ideal tired businessman's musical, indeed I was exhausted after a day running around in NYC, but all my fatigue and cares washed away in the warmth of the evening's doings. It seems to me that Nice Work If You Can Get It will become a marvelous recording, one to place alongside the OCRs of other successful musicals made up of old material, for instance George M and Tintypes....

Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Convert, a play by Danai Gurira at McCarter Theatre, Princeton NJ. Normally, this blog is devoted to plays requiring a commute to New York City from the hinterlands, but in this case, the commute is reversed: this is a play that is worth the commute from New York City (and anywhere else for that matter) into Princeton. And that's because "The Convert" is the finest play we've seen this season, even surpassing the fabulously entertaining "Venus in Fur" and "Sons of the Prophet". Unlike those two plays (the cream of the Broadway season for sure), "The Convert" is written in a deliberately old fashioned style, a full three-hour-running three-act play set in a single sitting room, reminiscent of the kind of absorbing work once offered by Somerset Maugham or Clifford Odets.
But make no mistake, "The Convert," which is about religious, cultural and racial strife in 19th Century Rhodesia (now Zimbawe), is entirely modern and always absorbing. Written as the first part of a trilogy by a very young Danai Gurira, we can't wait to see the next two installments.
The staging is near perfection. McCarter Theatre's own Emily Mann has directed with smooth assurance, and the cast is sensational. The "Convert" herself, played by Pascale Armand in a very brave performance, is a young tribeswoman "saved" from a polygamous marriage and paganism by the earnest African missionary, Chilford, played by the riveting LeRoy McClain. Set in the early days of the British colony, their community of converts includes Zainab Jah as Prudence, a bravura performance that nearly runs off with the play, and Kevin Mambo as the hard-to-like Chancellor. Cautions come from the wise Cheryl Lynn Bruce as Mai Tamba. Each character struggles to navigate the transitions brought by white colonization, both brutal and seductive.
The language of Shona is spoken intermittently throughout, skillfully used to be both symbolic and illuminating. The English dialogue cleverly illustrates the degrees of assimilation of each character.
It seems to us that "The Convert", next headed to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and then on to Center Theatre Group in LA (McCarter's partners in this new production), is likely to win a Pulitzer Prize. We predict it will eventually end up on Broadway and the West End - but don't wait and risk missing this experience at its freshest.
Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sons of the Prophet, a play by Stephen Karam, Roundabout Theatre Company at the Laura Pels. Stephen Karam's play has had such extravagant praise that we wondered if it would live up to it. Well it did and more - it is a play that is beautiful, haunting, profound, and even spiritual, and all of that in a lean transfixing ninety minutes. Although there were one or two loose threads - what did it mean when Charles took Vin upstairs with him and what exactly happened? - "Sons of the Prophet" had perfect timing and pacing, and the direction by Peter DuBois for once uses the surprisingly and usually disappointingly non-intimate confines of the Laura Pels Theatre to great effect.
The cast couldn't be better. Santino Fontana is giving the most talked about performance by a male lead of the young season and Johanna Gleason is sensational as a wounded and ditsy employer of Joseph. It's all tied together in an intensely moving scene between Santino Fontana's Joseph and Lizbeth Mackay playing Mrs. McAndrew, his former kindergarten teacher. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A

The Cotton Club Parade, a revue at New York City Center. Conceived as a recreation of the swank Cotton Club revues of the past led by Duke Ellington, this ninety minute extravaganza made up of Ellington's and other standards by the likes of Harold Arlen is sensational. The music, anchored by Wynton Marsalis's trumpet playing is played with tremendous virtuosity and power and the singing and dancing is dazzling from start to finish. This is by far the most handsomely staged Encores! event we've ever seen. There are two more shows - the Cotton Club Parade is not to be missed. Hopefully it will move onto Broadway and there will be a recording, or better yet, a DVD to savor. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Venus in Fur, a play by David Ives at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. This is a sizzling game of cat and mouse, a comedy drama with an edge, very erotic, but not a bit of nudity. Brilliant writing by David Ives and astonishing acting by Nina Arianda who appears to be a once in a generation talent. Ariandia is ably matched by Hugh Dancy in a two hander that is superbly directed by Walter Bobbie. The play looked smashing on the stage of the state-of-the-art Friedman Theatre (our favorite Broadway venue). We missed this play which made Nina Arianda a star at the CSC, and were thrilled to get this second chance. It is likely that "Venus in Furs" is going to get across the board rave reviews that combined with its sexy subject matter will make it a very hard ticket. Right now, in previews, it is an easy purchase at the half price booth. But half or full price, this is a not-to-be missed event showcasing an actress capable of physical comedy and with a voice capable of any accent or inflection, reminding me of the young Meryl Streep when we saw her in The Cherry Orchard. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Master Class, a play by Terrence McNally at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club. This brilliant play by the opera loving Terrence McNally has its third Broadway performance, and the best so far from the great Tyne Daly. Daly doesn't remotely resemble Callas, she is neither lithe, nor tall, but from the first time she walks on, she's in command, of the audience, and of the role. It is a remarkable performance from this versatile actress who is superlative in everything she does. As the students, Sierra Boggess, the original Little Mermaid, is lovely and sings difficult music quite well. Alexandra Silber who was a marvelous Julie Jordan in a London Carousel at the Savoy, is terrific as the flummoxed soprano. Garrett Sorenson displays a fine tenor voice in a Tosca selection. But it is of course Daly who is the show here. I don't know how effective this play would be for an audience member who is not versed in opera lore, but for those who are, this is a great ride. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A

Friday, July 01, 2011

War Horse, a "play" at The Vivian Beaumont, Lincoln Center Theater. War Horse, is one long "coup de theatre" an amazing and near miraculous use of enormous horse puppets to tell a simplistic childen's story about a boy going to battle in WWI to recover his beloved horse, Joey. The story is harrowing at times, but it is not "Journey's End." On the other hand, you wouldn't find five year olds in the audience for "Journey's End" like you do at "War Horse." The acting is about as provincial as it can get for a Broadway level play, shades of the miserable Beth Powley (from the revival of "Arcadia") the Brits have lately been sending us either their best (Mark Rylance) or their worst. But in the end (and a very dramatic end it is) the puppets are so beautiful and effective, and the story gripping, that it all works, especially as a first play to take a youngster to. This was not even close to being the best Broadway play of the season (that would be "Good People") but it is a great two and a half hours in the theater. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Shaughraun, a play by Dion Boucicault at the Irish Repertory Theatre. Today we caught the matinee of The Shaughraun at the Irish Repertory Theatre, and there is a bit of singing and violin playing in it, so if not a musical, it's definitely a melodrama and how often do we see those anymore? It's a rare look at one of the most popular plays of the 19th Century, and one that couldn't be more different than Dion Boucicault's best known play today, London Assurance, and one which came in for praise by Edith Wharton in "The Age of Innocence." It's also a valuable look-in at what thrilled New York audiences during the period of Harrigan and Hart. The Irish Rep does a fine job, they camp it up just a little, but undoubtedly a lot of winking and mugging was done in 1874 when the play premiered in New York City. There is an iconic photo on the program cover of Boucicault in the role, his favorite, but the Irish Rep program explains nothing about the history of the play which is an unfortunate omission. The run is coming to a close, I'd urge anyone who can to try and see a play that retains its power to charm and to amuse, if perhaps not to thrill the way it must have when Wharton saw it.
Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade B

Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Motherf**ker With The Hat, a play by Stephen Adly Guirgis. at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, starring Bobby Cannavale, Chris Rock, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Annabella Sciorra, Yul Valquez. In what has to be the best Broadway season for new plays and revivals in many years, The Motherf**ker With The Hat is a stand out. Running just 100 minutes, this wickedly entertaining play is a searing look at broken lives, lies, and the determination of people who have hit bottom to persevere, to survive, and to love. The star of the show is Bobby Cannavale in a performance that in any other year would be a lock for a Tony, but he will probably have to be satisfied with a nomination in this great season. Chris Rock is very fine in a complex role in which he is sometimes a savior, often a devil and always a master manipulator. The women are terrific, Annabella Sciorra has a heartbreaking scene with Cannavale, but the powerful and vivid Elizabeth Rodriguez, a sexy, smoldering, beauty, almost walks off with the show. She shouts herself raw both emotionally and vocally. The play is superbly constructed, and the direction by Anna D. Shapiro is flawless. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The School for Lies, from Moliere's The Misanthrope by David Ives. This hilarious, sexy and ribald adaptation by David Ives manages the feat of being "in period" and also modern. It's all in rhyme and often one character finishes the other's verse. "School for Lies" is likely to have a long and healthy life in regional theater, and it deserves a shot on Broadway. But no production is likely to have as young and sexy a cast as this one, expertly directed by Walter Bobbie. Headed by a radiant Mamie Gummer and the quicksilver Hamish Linklater, and with lovely Jenn Gambatese and Hoon Lee, the Classic Stage Company has another hit and a trendy one, the audience was full of movie stars on the Saturday night we were at their marvelous little theater. This was pure pleasure. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel test grade. A

Jerusalem, a play by Jez Butterworth at The Music Box theater. Starring Mark Rylance.
Mark Rylance is perhaps the leading Shakespeare actor of his generation, but considering his recent tour de force in La Bete, and now this towering performance as Rooster in Jerusalem, he's going to be remembered as an eccentric actor and one of the greatest ever to trod a stage. This is an epochal performance, one that theater goers will use to measure others by. "Jerusalem" which can be a little opaque to some, is a masterwork, the writing rising to heights that really do justify the comparisons of the play to works like "Peter Pan" and even at times, "The Merry Wives of Windsor." In what has to be one of the top seasons in memory for dramas on Broadway, this is the one that will probably last, but revivals will always depend on finding an actor of Rylance's ability, something that will be very very difficult. The production is superb, the direction by Ian Rickson is flawless. This is not to be missed - Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grad A+

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Born Yesterday a play by Garson Kanin at the Cort Theatre, starring Jim Belushi, Robert Sean Leonard, and Nina Arianda. Jim Belushi is the big name draw, followed by Robert Sean Leonard of House fame, but in this sturdy old comedy which once made Judy Holiday famous, the producers have struck gold again with the ingenue, this time Nina Arianda. After the opening on Sunday, many papers will write "A Star Was Born Yesterday." Nina Arianda, cute and very sexy (long legs!), is the best comic talent to hit Broadway since Kristin Chenoweth played Sally Brown. She will be the talk of the town. Awards are sure to follow. Belushi and Leonard are excellent, the set is superb, the direction flawless. Already a popular ticket even in previews it will be very hard to get after the opening. Sheer bliss. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Good People, a play by David Lindsay-Abaire, starring Frances McDormand and Estelle Parsons at the Manhattan Theatre Club Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. From the writer of the taut and superb "Rabbit Hole" comes this finely wrought and intriguing play, a terrific vehicle for the great Frances McDormand. The acting by the entire ensemble which inclues the legendary Estelle Parsons, is excellent, the direction by Daniel Sullivan predictably pitch perfect. This will get lots of nominations and maybe the top awards as well. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test grade A-

Le Comte Ory, an opera by Rossini at the Metropolitan Opera.

We just returned home from the weekend in New York and this is our first access to a keyboard. Just as I was composing my thoughts, the phone rang and it was my friend Carl, who used to work at the Met and who has been going to opera performances going back 60 years - a huge fan of Milanov, and a a fan and friend of Joan Sutherland. Carl got right to the point saying that he had heard the Comte Ory broadcast (he was sitting wtih a score) and found the singing so rapturously beautiful that he had to put his score down and just listen. Carl felt that it was one of greatest performances he's ever heard, and I have to agree, in fact, I would say that it was the finest ensemble singing (more than a duet) that I've heard in bel canto since the Normas back in 1972 with Sutherland, Horne and Bergonzi.

No, the opera is not first rate Rossini, and an aria from one of Rossini's French operas should have been interpolated for Joyce Di Donato (a more confident music team might have done so, a Gui, Toscanini, or Serafin would have...) and the business about staging the opera is over fussy and unnecessary, but that's it, the only possible criticisms for what was a historically great performance at the Metropolitan Opera.

The production is so happy and bright, sorry no neo-Nazi outfits, but the chorus dressed in lovely, colorful costumes, and the stage movement always clever and funny. And then there is the Trio sung in bed, with Florez, Di Donato and Damrau. Imagine trying to stage this with Sutherland, Horne and Bergonzi, a hilarious notion. But nimble as Florez, Di Donato and Damrau are, they are not Broadway stars like Kelli O'Hara or Sutton Foster, who can sing and dance and move so gracefully, they are opera singers. So what Bartlett Sher has accomplished with them in that bed goes beyond anything I've ever witnessed at an opera house. As far as I'm concerned, they can put his statue in the Met foyer for his feat of making them move like members of Pilobolus, the dance company. That trio is one of the most singluar memories I've had in nearly 50 years of going to the Met. Remembering those carping, insufficient reviews in the papers and magazines, why wasn't more ink devoted to this trio? When has anyone seen anyhing like it before? The achievement is historic, and so is the singing.

Diana Damrau - I had been so impressed with her Rosina, but then her Konstanze was a let down for me. So was her Lucia. Maybe it's Rossini? Maybe it's Sher, maybe it's the superior conducting, maybe it's singing with Florez, but whatever the reason, she gave a performance for the ages, funny, clever, with spectacular high notes and coloratura.

Florez - he used head voice yesterday, he didn't hammer out high notes from the chest (he did it some, but not in the big trio), he sang with exquisite artistry and taste. I've not heard another tenor half as good in this kind of music. Di Donato, what charm! What assurance! She's been mentioned as the successor to Marilyn Horne, and she is technically, but she's got gifts that should take her in directions that Horne couldn't go.

This is absolutely not to be missed. Le Comte Ory may not be The Ring, but when it's served up like this, it's just as as worth the effort to get to. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Anything Goes, a musical by Cole Porter at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. Starring Sutton Foster, Joel Grey, Jessica Walter, John McMartin, Laura Osnes, Colin Donnell, Adam Godley, directed by Kathleen Marshall. Although in previews for a just a week, this new revival of a classic looks positively smashing. The cast is very strong with Joel Grey a delight and the hugely talented Sutton Foster in what is probably the role of her life. After a week of dreadful news, this once and future Depression era hit really proved an antidote, a happy two and a half hours of sheer bliss. Because there will probably be changes it isn't fair to give details except to give advance notice that this is likely to be a huge hit on the Pajama Game or South Pacific level and that tickets will be scarce and expensive, so be warned! Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

Where's Charley" a musical by Frank Loesser at the New York City Center Encores!
The last Encores! of the season was the best, a funny, fizzy, happy performance of Loesser's first musical with an enchanting cast featuring veteran Broadway favorite, the lovely Rebecca Luker whose warm clear soprano has never sounded better. The direction by John Doyle was spot on and the youngsters in the cast give a bright promise for a big Broadway future, and several Broadway veterans added their comic expertise. Rob McClure as Charley had the audience eating out of his hand in "Once in Love with Amy." The Amy, pretty Lauren Worsham had a breakout success with "The Woman in His Room".
Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade. A

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Arcadia, a play by Tom Stoppard at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Directed by David Leveaux. In its final week of previews, this is shaping up as an anemic revival of Stoppard's celebrated play. There is a pulse here, a weak one, but where it is really lacking is in heart. Possibly that's due to the disastrously mis-cast Bel Powley as Thomasina. Projecting a whining flippancy, she neither is convincing as a precocious genius, nor makes us believe that she matures in the two years that pass between Acts One and Two into a young woman on the verge of sexual awakening. One thing Powely needs to do is learn to project her voice without shouting at the top of her lungs.
The rest of the cast is uneven. Tom Riley is superb as Hodge and Raul Esparza is quite good as Valentine. My wife and I split on Crudup, she liked his over the top performance, while I found him one dimensionally irritating. Grace Gummer, the younger daughter of Meryl Streep has a radiant presence and was good in the minor role of Chloe. Too bad she wasn't cast as Thomasina. Margaret Colin is a wan and ineffectual Lady Croom.
In this production, the play seems all hat and no cattle, with lots of pseud0-intellectual and cultural trappings to make an audience feel smarter than they and the play really are.
But perhaps with a good Thomasina and a different director the play might live up to its reputation. The production itself badly needs color and that sense of landscape that seems to be built into the text. As it is, it's a big open room, all white monochrome which is belied by the gorgeous curtain drop providing the riot of landscape and color that is absent.
There are pleasures to be sure -- Stoppard's prose is elegant and brilliant -- but so much of it seems like a magician's bag of tricks, dazzling, but empty. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade B-

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Other Desert Cities, a play by Jon Robin Baitz at Lincoln Center, starring Stockard Channing, Linda Lavin, Stacy Keach, Elizabeth Marvel and Thomas Sadoski. This potboiler play is overwrought, old fashioned melodrama (without the melo, no music) but is played with such conviction and style by this superior ensemble, three great old pros and two sensationally talented youngsters that it provides tremendous entertainment and at times, seems better than it is. It's the kind of play that would have once made a great movie for Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. All the stops are pulled out, screaming, crying, yelling, revelations, mysteries, and in a handsome setting by John Lee Beatty, and sure handed direction by Joe Mantello. It's transferring to Broadway in the Fall. The Ensemble gets an A+ and the play a B- making for an overall grade of A-

The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare at the Broadhurst Theater starring Al Pacino. We caught the second to last performance last weekend and we were very glad we did. The hype was justified, Al Pacino is magnificent as Shylock and Lily Rabe's performance as Portia, active, volatile, daring, and not at all placid and elegiac, was stupendous. The sets were great, the direction by Daniel Sullivan pitch perfect for an American production of such vigor and daring that would not be possible from RADA trained actors from England. Hopefully this production will see the light again, maybe it was filmed? Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Mary Poppins, a musical at the New Amsterdam Theatre. It was good to return to the New Amsterdam Theatre which we had not been to since the opening week of "The Lion King". We finally made it to "Mary Poppins" because we had own of town guests who were huge Disney fans. As such, the evening was a success, but we found it to be excruciatingly long (the first act is almost Wagnerian in length) the audience was full of too young children (there was a free promotion) who got bored very quickly and the musical itself is not very good. The original Sherman songs are great, but the fill ins seemed like warmed over "Little Mermaid" complete with an Ursula character in the guise of an evil Nanny who is quickly removed from the scene after one long Ursula like song. The sets and costumes are superb and her flying effects magical. We saw the original London Mary, Laura Michelle Kelly, who sang almost as sweetly as Julie Andrews did in the film, but who showed no personality. For people with children the right age (7-10) this is perhaps a good show (though the length is a killer) but it was one of the longest evenings we've spent in the theater - we hated nearly every minute of it.
Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade. D

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Three Sisters, a play by Anton Chekov at the CSC. Directed by Austin Pendleton, and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Hecht, Juliet Rylance, Marin Ireland, Peter Sarsgaard, Josh Hamilton, Gabe Bettio, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Paul Lazar, Anson Mount, Louis Zorich. The CSC space is unique to our experience. Most small venues have both limited seating and a small stage. The CSC stage, which is ground level is quite large, probably as big as a medium size playhouse, but the audience seating is small, only four rows deep on the sides and hardly more than that in the center. So when all of the floor space is used as it is in this production, it's like you are sitting in the living room along with the cast, watching events unfold. This makes for an amazing theatrical experience when it works, and last night it worked. This fabulous, beautiful and talented cast are heart and soul into this play, they've become their characters. Time and time again, the words came from them as naturally as if they had just thought them, even though the production is still in previews.
The performances are achingly real and searingly sad. Jessica Hecht is a brilliant soulful Olga, Maggie Gyllenhaal is heartbreaking as Masha and Juliet Rylance, is a radiant Irina, the slow erosion of whose hopes is sharply etched on her features. Her speaking voice is gorgeous to hear. Together these three sisters have a bond that is special. In the shrewish part of Natasha, Marin Ireland is outstanding as is Peter Sarsgaard as the weary, bored Vershinin who seems all too happy to get free of Masha at the end. Ebon Moss-Bachrach is memorable as the tragic Baron, and as the silly, but all too aware Kulygin, Paul Lazar arouses our sympathy even as we are repulsed by him. It all unfolds just as if it's happening, the sets (props really) and costumes couldn't be bettered. This one is special, worth any effort to get to it. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

The Importance of Being Earnest, a play by Oscar Wilde at the Roundabout Theatre Company American Airlines Theatre. Move over Edith Evans, in Brian Bedford you've finally found your match as Lady Bracknell. Playing this touchstone role absolutely straight, while in drag, this great actor fully makes the role his own. Bedford, who also directed, is as funny in repose as he is uttering Wilde's satirical aphorisms. Given great support especially by Paxton Whitehead and Dana Ivey, and with gorgeous scenery by Desmond Heeley, this is a treat to the eyes and the ears. The two and a half hours flew by in delicious contentment. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Brief Encounter, a musical play adapted by Emma Rice from Noel Coward's film, at the Roundabout Theatre Company. The staging is often magical, taking us in and out of film seemingly at will, as characters disappear into celluloid, the stage becomes a wonder of effects. Much of this is charming, this recreation of the Coward film, opened up with drama, song, and comedy. But more often it is tedious and unconvincing. The leads, attractive and well spoken, and gifted with fine singing voices, are leaden, hardly bringing us into their hearts and minds. The best element of this stew is the singing of classic Coward songs like "A Room With A View." The smaller characters are played with skill, but seem irrelevent, part of what seems like a heavy sales job. When the Warsaw Concerto pounds forth, the uber-Romantic music sounds like a joke. The theater was half-empty and no wonder. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade. C.

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Scottsboro Boys, a musical by Kander and Ebb, at the Lyceum Theater. Brilliantly directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, this musical about the tragic Scottsboro Boys, nine young men who were railroaded by racial injustice in 1931 Alabama, written by the great Kander and Ebb, may be their enduring masterwork. It mind bendingly takes chances, framing the musical as a Minstrel Show which actually allows the choreographer to stage normally forbidden blackface dance routines that are dazzlingly disturbing entertainments. The performances led by the legendary John Cullum are astonishing, the dance routines the most spectacular to be seen on Broadway in a long time. The musical closes December 12. Do anything to see it. This is a seminal creation.
Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Break of Noon, a play by Neil LaBute at the Lucile Lortel Theatre. We never miss a Neil LaBute play, they're always well cast, well written, and well played. The Break of Noon is an intriguing examination on what happens if a heel gets religion after a tragedy. Two great performances by David Duchovny who is astoundingly good, and by Tracee Chimo who rises to tremendous heights in an emotional scene. The beautiful Amanda Peet is excellent in two roles as is John Earl Jelks. This is a thought provoking play that grows in memory. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade B+

Bells Are Ringing, a musical by Jule Styne, presented by Encores! at the New York City Center. Starring Kelli O'Hara, Judy Kaye, Bobby Cannavale, and Will Chase. Here's another notch on the belt for Kelli O'Hara, another triumph in a classic role to which she brings her customary warmth and grace. What a pleasure it is to enjoy her in these prime performances! Staged by Kathleen Marshall, Bells Are Ringing is a joy to see and hear. Superb conducting by Rob Fisher, and excellent performances by Bobby Cannavale who is hilarious in his Brando riff, and Will Chase who is a revelation as a romantic lead. More from him please! Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Free Man of Color, a play by John Guare at the Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center. A total disaster, so much talent wasted. We lasted forty minutes into the first act, our earliest exit ever from a Broadway play. We weren't the first to leave. Subscribers should be warned. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test grade. F

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Falstaff, a play by Shakespeare, presented by Shakespeare's Globe at Pace University. Falstaff, is, well, dominated by Falstaff, in this case Christopher Benjamin who gives a performance of such richness and depth that he conjures up the legendary Falstaffs of the past. Could Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree have been any better? Excellent performances too by the Ford, Andrew Havill, and Mistress Page, Serena Evans, and Sarah Woodward as Alice Ford. The rest are not exactly A level, but make a good solid ensemble, in a picture perfect, joyous production. Hats off to the director Christopher Luscombe and Janet Bird who painted such a pretty picture with the sets and costumes. Shakespeare of this caliber is rare in NYC. While Merchant is packing them in uptown with a movie star, this is probably the best Shakespeare we're likely to see until the RSC comes in the summer of 2011. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade B.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mrs. Warren's Profession, a play by George Bernard Shaw, at the American Airlines Theatre. We've seen a lot of top flight revivals of plays by Shaw including Heartbreak House, Pygmalion and Major Barbara at Roundabout. We've also seen excellent productions of Mrs. Warren's Profession. But this sizzling revival which features white hot performances by the great Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins (of "Happy Go Lucky" fame) tops them all. These are two marvelous actresses at the top of their games, dueling as mother and daughter in this still relevant, provocative play.
For some reason, most of the critics didn't get Hawkins's performance, but we did, and the audience as a whole did last night. Multi dimensional - funny, sad, furious, resigned - and built with steel, Hawkins gives a brilliant portrayal of a role that is usually taken by an ingenue and conventionally played as such. Jones is the only Mrs. Warren we've seen to capture the earthiness of the role, her low down qualities, as well as her great heart. Her plea for women is universal, and because it comes from someone who is unabashedly vulgar, and not the usual madame masquerading as a patrician, it has much more punch. We very much liked the silky villainous Sir George Crofts by Mark Harelik and the hammy Mr. Praed of Edward Hibbert. The staging and the superb sets and costumes can't be bettered. This one goes in our Pantheon. It is not to be missed.
Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, a musical by David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane, at the Belasco Theatre. This ambitious musical, based on the classic film by Pedro Almodovar, is in its final week of previews. Changes are apparently still being made, but already there is plenty to savor in "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown". The score is first rate, one of the best new scores we've heard on Broadway in years and even better perhaps than Yazbek's "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."
The staging is hugely imaginative and enjoyable. All the stops have been pulled out, video, gorgeous sets, it's all there. The performances will get a lot of award consideration most especially Laura Benanti's manic Candela (she looks incredibly sexy in her costumes), Sherie Rene Scott in what should be considered the lead role, and Patti LuPone who finds her best new role in years as Lucia. I don't think I've heard Brian Stokes Mitchell in more mellifluous form, and Danny Burstein is wonderful as the Taxi Driver. It could use some tightening in the second act and presumably will get some. But already, it is a notable achievement. But will the critics get it? Maybe not. Our Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade is B+

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

La Bete, a play by David Hirson at The Music Box theater, starring Mark Rylance, David Hyde Pierce and Joanna Lumley, directed by Matthew Warchus. Two seasons ago, Mark Rylance and Matthew Warchus revived a failed play, "Boeing, Boeing" and struck gold. Well, here they've done it again, and have found an even richer vein, for "La Bete" which only ran 15 performances the first time around, emerges as a comic masterwork of the highest order. Rylance, whom we've seen in so many plays including Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Henry V, etc, and who has been magnificent in all of them, rises in "La Bete" , or rather sinks, to a level of vulgar hilarity, with an antic yet naturalistic delivery of the verse that keeps the audience in convulsions. By its skillful ease and inhibition, this astonishing performance leaves his audiences grasping for superlatives. His two co-stars, Joanna Lumley and David Hyde Pierce, are superb foils for his manic comedy. Lumley, radiant and regal, is appropriately fierce but at all times very funny. The sets and costumes by Mark Thompson are very striking. .
Why did "La Bete" fail? Looking at the original cast, there was no Mark Rylance to be found for one thing, but perhaps it is its scabrous humor that savages critics among others. Could this be why Frank Rich savaged the play in turn? I wouldn't be surprised, for critics who blithely tear apart the work of a lifetime without even thinking of the consequences are notoriously thin- skinned themselves.
So rich in humor and wisdom disguised in a faux-Moliere-comedy setting,"La Bete," which is entirely in rhyme, is sublime and not to be missed. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Orlando, a play by Sarah Ruhl adapted from the novel by Virginia Woolf, at Classic Stage Company.
In "Orlando" Sarah Ruhl has once again found the fusion of magic, myth, humor and enchantment that marked her sublime "Eurydice." "Orlando," which lasts two hours with one ten minute intermission, waves a spell that is only occasionally punctuated by laughter. Ruhl's quirky absurdist sensibility matches well with this great anamorphic love story penned by Woolf to Vita Sackville-West. And in "Orlando" Ruhl may have created her finest work to date, a masterwork to stand with and perhaps surpass "Eurydice."
The performances by five gifted actors, two of whom are beautiful women and three men of middling appearance, are phenomenal. In the lead role, Francesca Faridany who has lurked on the fringe of fame should at last achieve a breakthrough. Faridnay, mesmerizingly beautiful in her man/woman transformation, in and out of clothes, gives a towering performance that should land her several off-Broadway awards. Particularly noteworthy is the poetic reading of her lines both narrative and dialogue, lines that stick in the memory like "The dead have wonderful memories."
Annika Boras is gorgeous and haunting as Sasha and the three men are remarkable in several roles including Queen Elizabeth. The stagecraft in the diminutive space is startlingly creative. Movement and dance is choreographed by Annie-B Parson and the direction by Rebecca Taichman is award-worthy. So too is the spellbinding music by Christian Frederickson and Ryan Rumery. It is quite likely that "Orlando" will be the most talked about play of the early season, if not the year. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test grade A+

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Little Night Music, a musical by Stephen Sondheim at the Walter Kerr Theatre. Bernadette Peters has been a personal favorite ever since I saw her as Josie Cohan when I was 17 in 1968. She was the brightest of ingenues then, and today, she proved to be a grand Broadway diva at the height of her powers. There was a sense of greatness in every move she made as Desiree Armfelt. Her singing of "Send in the Clowns" was the finest rendition I've ever heard of it and I doubt there was a dry eye in the packed theater. Looking as ravishingly beautiful as she ever has, Peters dominated the stage and keyed this fabulous, pitch perfect revival. She was matched by an equal legend in Elanie Stritch as Madame Armfelt. The audience was riveted by her every line. Her scenes with the young beauty Katherine McNamara were very poignant. We loved the Egerman of Alexander Hanson and he played beautifully with Peters. Also outstanding as the randy maid Petra was gorgeous Lee Ann Larkin. All of the cast was just about ideal. Though critics carped about Trevor Nunn's direction, we didn't see how it could have been better. This is one of the most memorable performances we've seen in this or any season. The casting of Stritch and Peters was a great summer gift to Broadway. Do not miss this. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Grand Manner, a play by A. R. Gurney at the Lincoln Center Theater (Mitzi E. Newhouse). The Grand Manner is a gentle meditation by A. R. Gurney on what it means to be "grand" in the theater, and how one generation's grandeur can seem old-fashioned to a new generation.
Certainly the generation at this play was mostly old enough to have seen Katharine Cornell, and one man wheezed "Candida!" when Kate Burton, playing Cornell, mentioned Shaw's play. Another very elderly woman, who may well have seen Bernhardt, had a great deal of trouble with her hearing aid.
This play feels not quite finished, as if it's an enjoyable summerstock effort (something one would gratefully see at Williamstown), but not quite ready for prime time. The cast is excellent. Kate Burton is graceous as Cornell, showing quite a bit of the luminosity she was known for, while Boyd Gaines is superb as Guthrie McClintock her famous director-husband. Brenda Wehle is good in supporting part, but I found Bobby Steggert, though very smooth in his part, irritating, which is perhaps how we are supposed to feel about this importunate autograph seeker (ouch!).
Many critics noted that what is missing in the play is Cornell's "grand manner" and it is. But then, who could bring this to the American stage today? I'm old enough to have seen Eva Le Gallienne, who had the "grand manner" in spades. But who today, at least on this side of the ocean (Maggie Smith certainly does), has it? Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade B

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fences, a play by August Wilson at the Cort Theater, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. The Cort has been a lucky place this season. First the searing revival of "A View From The Bridge" and now this towering American masterwork, "Fences", in a superlative revival. Denzel Washington (who did not find firm footing in his first foray on to Broadway as Brutus) is magnificent as the raging, disappointed Troy Maxson, a Negro Leagues baseball player who was too past his prime to play in the major leagues, while Viola Davis as his wife Rose attains greatness with her deep love of Troy and her family shining through her sorrow and anger. The Tony Awards (due to be awarded tomorrow) will rain down on this production and cast. The audience, very vocal, bursting into applause and laughter at every big moment, was in rapture. As we exited we noticed a lady sitting in a trance with a look of beatitude on her face. We saw the 1983 original with James Earl Jones who was a force of nature, Jupiter-like in his rage. Washington is equally powerful, less formidable and frightening at first, but building in strength and stature with every line. The entire cast is splendid. The direction, staging, sets, all perfection. This is not to be missed. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade. A+

Saturday, May 22, 2010

This Wide Night, a play by Chloe Moss at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, presented by Naked Angels. When we saw that Alison Pill and Edie Falco were going to do a two hander, we immediately pounced. Then the raves poured in for this brilliant play about former cellmates reuniting in a dingy apartment. Lucky us, we had front row center seats for one of the most sensational performances of this or any theater season. Alison Pill has never been more powerful or moving, and Edie Falco with her rolling gait is heartbreakingly unforgettable. Do not miss this! Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Anyone Can Whistle, a musical by Stephen Sondheim at the New York City Encores! at City center. Starring Donna Murphy, Raoul Esparza and Sutton Foster, directed by Casey Nicholaw.

Sondheim on Sondheim, a revue celebrating the music of Stephen Sondheim at Studio 54. Starring Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams and Tom Wopat, directed by James Lapine.

Saturday was a Sondheim day for us. We began with the matinee of the Encores! presentation of "Anyone Can Whistle." This failed show has a marvelous score by Sondheim and with careful pruning by David Ives, it almost worked this time around. But Arthur Laurents's incomprehensible book and libretto, one that Sondheim himself faults for lack of clarity, still sinks it. Yet even so, when Murphy, Esparza and Foster are holding the stage, more than a little theatrical magic occurs. At times, even the book seemed to come together, almost as if a fog was lifting. This especially happened in the second act when Foster in her red wig in the "Romance" sequence heats up the stage with Esparza. We liked Foster best of all when she brought down the house singing "Anyone Can Whistle." The dances were splendid, the show looked great. This is undoubtedly as good as this show will ever get and in staging it so well, Encores! really fullfilled their mission of resurrecting an unstagable musical. Add in the talk-back with Sondheim himelf, and this was one of the most significant of all Encores! presentations. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test grade B+

We really looked forward to seeing Barbara Cook out of a cabaret and onto a Broadway stage. She did not disappoint. Even at her advanced age, she can still put over a song, with her limpid voice remarkably intact. Predictably she brought down the house in "Send in the Clowns." Unfortunately her two co-stars, Williams and Wopat were inadequate partners. They did not sing well, nor did they seem to get the meaning of what they were singing. This was particularly sad considering Williams was given a lost song from Gypsy and the sublime "Children Will Listen" though this was picked up by the rest of the company. The young talents were promising in "Sondheim on Sondheim" and I predict that a beautiful slim redhead Erin Mackey will eventually obtain stardom. She really shone in "Do I hear A Waltz." Alas, this was accompanied by Stephen Sondheim, on film, being rather negative about the show and about Rodgers, which was mean spirited we thought. Other footage was much more rewarding and revealing, but there was such a surfeit of it, that the whole evening smacked more of documentary than revue. Of the eight people we were with, I was the only one who liked the evening, and there was a lot I hated about it including the tedious sets. Though "Sondheim on Sondheim" didn't reach the high level it promised on paper, seeing Cook is nevertheless a must. Something to brag about to the grandchildren. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade B-

Friday, April 09, 2010

Promises, Promises, a musical by Burt Bacharach and Neil Simon at the Broadway Theatre. Starring Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth. Once upon a time, a Broadway Show meant a glamorous evening, great stars, beautiful girls, smart sets, colorful costumes, gorgeous chorus lines and rousing dance numbers, and more. That was the Broadway musical for our parents, the Broadway for which a table at Sardis still held glittery promise. That kind of musical is almost never seen today, but low and behold in this sizzling revival of Promises, Promises, we get our parents' Broadway, and that's just swell.
Start with the stars: Sean Hayes, making his Broadway debut, connects with the audience from his first pantomime with adding machine as nerdy C. C. Baxter. Whether soliloquizing directly with audience members, delivering his Bacharach solos with verve, or harmonizing effectively with the adorable Kristin Chenoweth as the love-lorn Fran Kubelik, Hayes has an effortless comedic presence and charm: he will win the Tony. Chenoweth gets a huge round of applause when she walks on the stage, she is a very big star in this town and for those hold-outs who may have resisted her in the past, they will surely capitulate. This is a score perfectly suited to her vocally and stylistically -- the songs could have been written for her. She'll be the toast of the town when the show opens and, unless Barbara Cook takes it, Chenoweth should get her second Tony. All of the roles are well cast, but special mention should be made of Katie Finneran as the show stopping Marge.
The dances by Rob Ashford are sensational, right from the curtain opener which had us grinning with pleasure. The direction is just about flawless, except that the show drags a little about half way into the second act, too many songs. "Wanting Things" should probably be cut altogether.
The sets and costumes are perfection, right out of "Mad Men." This show is going to be a smash, a sell-out Pajama Game type of smash. Don't miss this.
Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade. A-

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Glass Menagerie, a play by Tennessee Williams at the Laura Pels Theatre (presented by Roundabout). Starring Judith Ivey, Patch Darragh, Keira Keeley and Michael Mosley. Directed by Gordon Edelstein.
We saw a preview performance on a stormy day (yesterday) of this production which was much praised when it was at the Long Wharf Theatre. Alas, the production still has a whiff of the provincial in it. What must have seemed like a very high quality presentation in New Haven, becomes mundane for Broadway. Unquestionably Judith Ivey, a great actress by any measure, delivers an expert performance, a clinic in acting. But she lacks that special luminous quality that was supposedly part of Laurette Taylor's resume. That Taylor had once been a beloved and beautiful ingenue (her Peg O'My Heart was one of the great hits of the early 20th Century), unlike Ivey who has never been other than a character actor may have been part of the problem. We have never seen an ideal performance of this challenging role - Jessica Tandy failed just as Ivey has. Katherine Hepburn in the television adaptation perhaps has come closest to capturing the faded, but still potent allure of the character. Amanda must, for a brief moment, be prettier and more bewitching than her poor daughter when the "gentleman caller" comes a calling, she should be a faded Southern Belle who briefly recaptures her charm, thus putting her sad daughter into stark relief for lacking those qualities, but Ivey was merely what she is throughout the performance, a pathetic, bullying battle-axe.
The rest of the cast varied. Patch Darragh, of NBC's "Mercy" dominated as Tom Wingfield, he should have a great future on the stage. Keira Keeley was a generic Laura. It didn't help that her most powerful scenes were played in near darkness, a huge mistake by the director and the lighting designer. When the glass unicorn is broken, we hear her, but do not see her. A pity.
A worthy effort, and worth seeing, but not a Glass Menagerie for the ages. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade. B-

The Miracle Worker, a play by William Gibson at the Circle in the Square. Starring Abigail Breslin, Alison Pill, Elizabeth Franz, Matthew Modine and Jennifer Morrison. Directed by Kate Whoriskey. This first ever Broadway revival of William Gibson's "The Miracle Worker" has been deemed "flat" and "disappointing" by the critics. Perhaps they saw early performances before the production had jelled, perhaps it took nearly a week into the run for everything to come together. Whatever the explanation, we cannot recall a time when the critics got it so very wrong. Because this current revival of "The Miracle Worker" is, in our opinion, a total success, never maudlin, never pandering, giving us one of the most thrilling nights we've spent in a theater. Abigail Breslin is a splendid Helen while Alison Pill is a powerful Annie Sullivan, a career milestone in this remarkable actor's ascendance. Pill has the rare gift of being eloquent while standing perfectly still and silent. Any performance by Pill commands attention. Distinguished players in lesser, but still crucial roles were Matthew Modine as The Captain, Elizabeth Franz as Helen's aunt, and the beautiful Jennifer Morrison of "House" fame as Kate Keller.
The Circle in the Square is a nasty theatrical space and hardly ideal to present this play, but Kate Whoriskey made a minus into a plus by making the action immediate and intimate for the audience. To realize her success, consider that on the evening we went, there was a Girl Scout troop and many younger children in the audience. Yet these children and the adults (so often distracted by cell phones, or nagging coughs) were absolutely silent, one of the best behaved audiences we've been fortunate to be part of. Everyone was riveted on the action. This play still delivers a powerful punch. We walked out dazzled, and thrilled. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

La Boheme, an opera by Puccini at the Metropolitan Opera House, starring Piotr Beczala and Anna Netrebko. Last night, in a remarkable display of star power, the Metropolitan Opera was packed with eager fans even during one of the worst storms in recent memory. Standing outside in the pouring rain and howling winds were desperate fans wearing placards begging for tickets. The performance inside did not disappoint. Beautiful Anna Netrebko, who started out as a lyric coloratura has bloomed into a full spinto soprano verging on the dramatic. Her big gorgeous voice filled the opera house with ease. Matching her note for note was the splendid tenor Piotr Beczala giving a performance as Rodolfo that brought back memories of Corelli, Carreras and Pavarotti. Making her first appearance this season as Musetta was an old house favorite Ruth Ann Swenson who got a huge ovation for Musetta's Waltz. The rest of the cast was solid. The conducting by Marco Armiliato was routine at best, sometimes the music dragged outright which is a sin in Puccini. Nonetheless, the singers had their way and their way was glorious. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade B+

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Claybourne Park, a play by Bruce Norris at Playwrights Horizons. Directed by Pam MacKinnon, starring Cyrstal A. Dickinson, Brendan Griffin, Damon Gupton, Christina Kirk, Annie Parisse, Jeremy Shamos, Frank Wood.
The best new American play since "August Osage County", and if this off-Broadway production were Tony eligible, it would likely sweep nearly every major category. It is that good.
Start with the masterful direction by Pam MacKinnon of a cast of seven playing multiple parts several of which morph in front of our eyes in a play spanning two separate periods in history in the same house. The play covers many subjects but first and foremost is that of race and tribe, of basic human relations. It's alternately funny, infuriating, sad. So many people trapped.
The performances are basically perfect. Standouts include Christina Kirk alternately hilarious and heartbreaking in her two roles and Frank Wood who creates devastatingly heartbreaking pathos as the despairing Russ. Annie Parisse, so memorable as Becky Shaw last season, gives a virtuoso turn as a deaf Betsy and the ultra liberal Lindsey. Crystal A. Dickinson and Damon Gupton provide pitch-perfect portrayals of two African-American couples, the "help" in 1959 and community activists fifty years later. Brendan Griffin essays three roles with distinction. In a schizophrenic theater season in which there have been so many duds and disappointments punctuated by a few superlative productions, "Claybourne Park" makes history with a truly great production of a brand new American masterpiece. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Time Stands Still, a play by Donald Margulies at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Directed by Daniel Sullivan, starring Laura Linney, Brian D'Arcy James, Alicia Silverstone, Eric Bogosian. It says a lot about what an ensemble player Laura Linney is, that she didn't get top billing, which she richly deserves both as the "name" in the cast and because she is clearly the star of the show giving a lovely, nuanced, and powerful performance that should make her the odds-on favorite to win a Tony (though Judith Ivey may have something to say about that). Even as a scarred bombing victim, Linney's luminous beauty and intelligence shine in her deeply troubled character who is addicted to the adrenaline of war, yet comes to question the morality of her voyeuristic role as a photojournalist. Brian D'Arcy James is straightforward in his role as her journalist lover who has fled the war zone and wishes only to build a life of banal normalcy. He doesn't quite make as much of his character as Eric Bogosian does in a smaller supporting role. But Alicia Silverstone in her small part almost steals the limelight. Together they make a finely honed quartet as directed by Daniel Sullivan. What takes place in front of our eyes seems real, and the characters relationships are engrossing. The first act is near perfection while the second sags a bit; a bit disappointing as the resolution is not predictable and is profoundly troubling and sad. A fine play, and a superb evening in the theater with Linney in what may be the role of her life and giving a performance to match. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade. A-

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Measure For Measure, a play by William Shakespeare at the Duke presented by Theater For A New Audience. TFNA is usually a reliable bunch, so we went to our first ever performance of "Measure for Measure" with the confidence that we would see a good, if not great, performance. Unfortunately, from the first five minutes into the play it was apparent that we were in for a very long and painful experience. The cast, with the exception of Jefferson Mays as the Duke, and to a lesser extent John Christopher Jones as Elbow, was to put it bluntly, inept. The heart of the play is the character of Isabella and her cruel choice between saving her brother's life or her virtue, here played by the preternaturally thin Elisabeth Waterson, costumed apparently to resemble Olive Oyl. Gawky, unable to project her voice even to our our third row stage seats in what is a very small space, Waterson portrayed Isabella as a cranky and petulant prude. Watching her deliver Shakespeare's passionate and heartrending pleas for mercy and justice in droning, sing-song cadences, it was hard to believe she was praised as Desdemona last season, in fact it was hard to believe she could have graduated acting school. The same would go for LeRoy McClain as her brother Claudio. In the villain role of Angelo, Rocco Sisto at first seemed as if he would give a broad mustache-twirling performance but he floundered so badly in the second act that we had to write him off as a total loss.
The direction by Arin Arbus was cluttered and static and took no account for the fact that the stage had the audience on three sides. Where we sat, the right side, the action was blocked from our view at crucial times. The scenes of high comedy were bungled (the unmasking of the Duke in the final scene was clumsy) and scenes of high drama brought titters from the audience. There was no integration to the acting, one could see NYU here, Juilliard there, but at no time did we see even minimum competence except from John Christopher Jones whose deadpan comedy proved as effective as it did in "Alls Well That Ends Well" and the excellent Jefferson Mays as the Duke who seemed like Gielgud amidst this bumbling troupe (which, alas, he was not). This was not worth our time and trouble. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade F

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A View From The Bridge, a play by Arthur Miller at the Cort Theater. Directed by Gregory Mosher; starring Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Hecht. Every season we go to the theater in New York hoping that the performance will be really great, really special, a winner in every way, but it rarely happens. But when it does, like it did tonight in this magnificent, note perfect revival of "A View from the Bridge" it makes it all worth it. We saw the perfectly decent revival of nearly ten years ago with Anthony LaPaglia, but it wasn't even close to what we saw tonight from the towering Liev Schreiber, the most gifted American actor of his generation, Jessica Hecht, the superb veteran, and the beautiful Scarlett Johansson who, in a breakout-heartbreaking performance has answered all doubts about whether she belonged in such an acting company. As the attorney and chorus, Michael Cristofer was splendid. Sets and costumes were realistic and made for an ideal staging. This is as good as it gets. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Present Laughter, a play by Noel Coward at the American Airlines Theatre, starring Victor Garber. It's only in previews but based on what we saw last night,Roundabout's revival of "Present Laughter" is a dreadful disaster. No one in the cast seemed to have a clue about the elegant Coward style so desperately called for, and their British accents were pathetic, everyone is guilty of eccentric over-acting. The usually reliable Victor Garber, who plays the role like a classic British "silly ass" misses the measure of the role completely. While Essendine is indeed an ass, he is not the Eric Blore kind of "silly ass" but is instead a flamboyant larger-than-life buffon who looms over the action dominating it with every outrageous line. Think of John Barrymore in "Twentieth Century" or the wonderfully hammy Frank Langella who was an excellent Gary Essendine in the last revival of "Present Laughter". If, according to the pre-opening buzz, Victor Garber actually wins a Tony for this performance, then it will set an ironic seal on what so far has been the weakest Broadway season in our memory. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade F.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Emperor Jones, a play by Eugene O'Neill at the Irish Repertory Theatre, starring John Douglas Thompson. Though the play is expanded time wise by the introduction of a lot of African style puppetry (when will these Julie Taymor inspired stagings become a cliche?), the play rises and falls on the performance of John Douglas Thompson. He does his best, he rants and rages, he shows fear, contrition. He's a bad guy who succumbs to fear and to witchcraft. It's a fine performance but not even Paul Robeson could make The Emperor Jones a repertory staple and neither does Thompson because despite all the gimmickry of the staging, it's a very thin piece. It belongs on a program with something else to balance it. All eight of the members of our theater group had expected this to be something special because of the rave reviews this production has received. Certainly this is a historic play as it launched the career of the man who is arguably America's greatest playright. But this is no Long Days Journey into Night, and by itself, we all felt it's not worth a commute, although if you have eighty mintues to spare and you live nearby, you could do worse. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade C+

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Finian's Rainbow, a musical by Burton Lane at the St. James Theatre. Starring Kate Baldwin, Cheyenne Jackson, Jim Norton, Alina Faye, Christopher Fitzgerald. Directed and choreographed by Warren Carylisle, conducted by Rob Berman. Based largely on the enchanting Encores! production of March 2009 which we gave an A, this joyous mounting of Finian's Rainbow at the St. James is actually better, perfect in fact. I can't imagine improving one aspect, one cast member, one costume. This is as good as it gets in revival land. Everyone in the cast seems as if their role was created for them. In the role made immortal by Ella Logan, Kate Baldwin equals her, maybe even surpasses her with her radiant beauty (she looks like a young Maureen O'Hara) and her exquisite vocals. Watching Baldwin command the stage, she's a performer whose time is now, who has reached her youthful prime to become one of the most treasurable of Broadway divas. She has sizzling chemistry with the marvelous Cheyenne Jackson. (The two of them reminded me of how Kelli O'Hara and Harry Connick Jr, connected in Pajama Game.) Jim Norton is a definitive Finian, Christopher Fitzgerald is a spry and charming Og, while beautiful Alina Faye dazzles in her dance numbers, particularly the Harmonica number with Guy Davis. What was a miraculous achievement in the Encores! production has blossomed into greatness. This is a revival of a classic musical to equal the seminal South Pacific revival at Lincoln Center, and in doing so, becomes one of those rare revivals that may actually equal or surpass the original production. Likely it will win several Tonys - I can't imagine anyone topping the performances by Baldwin, Jackson and Norton this season. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

Girl Crazy, a musical by George and Ira Gershwin. New York City Center Encores! Starring Ana Gasteyer and Wayne Knight, directed by Jerry Zaks. Jerry Zaks puts on a colorful show so this Girl Crazy not only sounded good, but it looks very good. The costumes are dazzling, the dancing was good, the show girls beautiful, and the orchestral playing led by Rob Fisher was just "fine and dandy" (to use the title of a hit musical of the same year, 1930, by George Gershwin's mistress Kay Swift, a work that cries out for Encores! treatment.) Sassy Gasteyer is game in the part Merman created while funnyman Wayne Knight probably gives the most complete performance in a role conceived for Bert Lahr (but created by Willie Howard). The chance to see this all time classic is not to be missed. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade. B-

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Understudy, a play by Theresa Rebeck at Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre, starring Julie White. Because we've enjoyed several Theresa Rebeck plays such as "The Scene," "Waters Edge" and "Maritius" we had hoped that "The Understudy" would be better than the reviews. And it probably was. Playing a mercifully short 110 minutes, there was much to enjoy in this three hander, and the marvelous Julie White gives it her considerable all. But this was thin stuff, and it seemed longer than it was. Not a bad evening in the theater, but not worth a commute of any kind. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade C+

Saturday, November 07, 2009

In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play, a play by Sarah Ruhl, at the Lyceum Theatre. Starring Laura Benanti, Michael Cerveris, Maria Dizzia, Wendy Rich Stetson, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, and Chandler Williams; Directed by Les Waters. We caught Sarah Ruhl's new play while it's still in previews and probably there will be changes and the actors, all new to their roles except for Maria Dizzia, will settle into their characters. As it is, this appears to be perhaps Ruhl's most mature work, every bit as challenging as her previous plays, but more witty, and profoundly understanding of the human condition. It's also the first play we've seen from Ruhl, a playwright we'll follow to the ends of the earth (or at least to New Haven), that is erotically charged. The set up is clever, opening like an Ibsen play, in perfect period sets and costumes c.1880, as we see how a Doctor, played by the excellent Michael Cerveris, is treating his mostly female patients for "hysteria" using the newfangled electronic vibrator. The female patient played superbly by Maria Dizzia (creator of Ruhl's Eurydice) reacts to the vibrator in ways that are both predictable and surprising, while the Doctor's frustrated wife played with giddy nervousness by a stunningly beautiful Laura Benanti is burning with curiosity to know what's going on in the office. Many subplots, including an unexpected turn by an artist hilariously played by Leo Irving, ensue. The play appears to be mostly unchanged from its first incarnation in Berkeley, but it may undergo more changes by the opening. We plan to catch this sparkling and provocative play later in the run, but as it is, this handsomely mounted production full of choice lines worthy of Austen like "What men do not observe because their intellect prevents them from seeing..." from perhaps the most original young playwright in America is a must see. A particular pleasure is hearing Benanti's exquisite voice, apparently unmiked, singing two melancholy songs. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade: B+

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Royal Family, a play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Directed by Doug Hughes, starring Rosemary Harris, Jan Maxwell, Ana Gasteyer, Reg Rogers, Larry Pine, Kelli Barrett. We saw the 1975 revival of The Royal Family, an unforgettable experience featuring magical performances by Eva Le Gallienne as Fanny Cavendish and Rosemary Harris as her daughter Julie. So it is an indescribable and rare pleasure to see the radiant Ms. Harris ascend to the role of Fanny. And if Le Gallienne brought a unique aura, redolent of the actual period of the play, then Harris brings her own special warmth to the role based on Louisa Drew, the matriarch of the real Royal Family of Broadway, the Drew-Barrymores. Harris's role of Julie, the Ethel Barrymore part, has passed to Jan Maxwell who is wonderfully sweet and vulnerable as the hard-working and long-suffering reigning queen of the theater. As Tony Cavendish, Reg Rogers does a hilarious riff on John Barrymore's whacky Oscar Jaffe persona while John Glover brings off the John Drew stand-in, over-the-hill Herbert Dean. As faithful agent Oscar Wolfe, ailing Tony Roberts's understudy, Anthony Newfield, is excellent. Lovely Kelli Barrett makes an auspicious debut as young Gwenn Cavendish. No expense has been spared in this deluxe production. The sets by John Lee Beatty and the costumes by Catherine Zuber (my favorite is a "tea dress" worn in Act III by Julie) are spectacular. The incidental music is by no less a composer than Maury Yeston. There are many special moments in this pitch perfect revival, our favorite of which is when the actors become the audience and vice versa (or so the script goes). The moment is priceless. The play is hardly a masterwork, but it is such a pleasurable vehicle that it's been revived four times. There is no actress on the stage today more beloved than Rosemary Harris and seeing her in this entertaining valentine to acting and the theater is an opportunity not to be missed. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade B+

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

West Side Story, a musical by Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins at the Palace Theatre. Directed by Arthur Laurents; starring Matt Cavenaugh, Josefina Scaglione and Karen Olivo. Going in for a Wednesday matinee, we finally caught up to the revival of West Side Story. Though we found the dances lackluster, it was great to see them as Robbins designed them, in context, but what makes this revival so special is the exquisite Maria of Josefina Scaglione, the red hot Anita of Karen Olivo and the soaring Tony of Matt Cavenaugh. Cavenaugh and Scaglione had a marvelous chemistry and their duets were breathtakingly beautiful. Olivo, who won a Tony, and deservedly so, really sparkled in "America." The revival would have been better with tighter and more inspired direction. The action was, at times, absolutely clumsy, and the ending, so powerful and poignant, verged on the banal. The conducting of the music was humdrum at best, and the much talked about Spanish language parts struck us as a gimmick that was unnecessarily intrusive and often annoying. "I feel pretty" was undoubtedly lost on the younger members of the audience, who otherwise cheered lustily. Though it could be better, this major revival which is likely the last one that will involve two of its original creators, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents, is absolutely not to be missed. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade: A-

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Ruined, a play by Lynn Nottage at the Manhattan Theatre Club Stage I, directed by Kate Whoriskey.
God of Carnage, a play by Yasmina Reza at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, Directed by Matthew Warchus, starring Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden.

After a long hiatus from New York Theatre, we doubled up on Wednesday, choosing the two most decorated plays of the season. Interestingly, "God of Carnage" actually has a passing reference to the subject matter of "Ruined", the fighting in the Congo. But awards and acclaim aside, there is no comparison between the plays - "God of Carnage" is a light as air star vehicle of no substance, and except for a few riotous lines, is forgettable fluff, which absolutely depends on its star quartet. Of these, James Gandolfini is by far the most rewarding and enjoyable, but we did like Hope Davis, and to a lesser extent, Jeff Daniels. But Marcia Gay Harden was shrill and stiff, and her Tony Award (over many more worthy candidates, especially the female stars of "Joe Turner") is unfathomable to us. Jeff Daniels does not come close to matching the performance of Ralph Fiennes in the same role in the London mounting of "God of Carnage" which, Gandolfini aside, was superior to its New York counterpart. The reference in "God of Carnage" to the fighting in the Congo is, to put it mildly, flippantly obscene and no one who attends "Ruined" will fail to see just how poor in taste it is. "God of Carnage" is, in our opinion, perhaps the flimsiest play to ever win the Tony.
"Ruined" unlike "God of Carnage" is not a star vehicle, but is instead a superbly written two act play (long acts) of great substance, haunting, heartbreaking, inspiring, and full of drama. It fully deserved the Pulitzer. The play is so old fashioned, it's as if Samuel Beckett, Edward Albee or Harold Pinter had not existed; not for Lynn Nottage is the magic realism of a Tarell McCraney (the brilliant young writer of "The Brothers Size") or the absurdism of Sarah Ruhl (author of the great play "Eurydice."). By the time the harrowing "Ruined" ends, we realize we've watched a masterwork, played to perfection by an outstandingly talented cast. That this cast had three understudies in key roles only underscores the strength of the writing, and the depth of talent employed in this production which has, along with the revival of "Our Town" and the Pulitzer runner up "Becky Shaw" made this a very memorable Off-Broadway season.
Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Grades: Ruined - A+ God of Carnage B

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Gala Evening with Kristin Chenoweth at the New York City Center! The signs said "come on get happy" and that's just what Kristin Chenoweth accomplished with her mega talent. Singing old standards and even an opera aria, and assisted by Douglas Sills in a hilarious series of comic duets, Chenoweth struck gold. The audience left happy, exactly as promised. Only the tedious interminable speeches at the beginning lasting for a leaden half hour detracted from the pleasure. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test grade A-

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Desire Under the Elms, a play by Eugene O'Neill at the St. James Theatre, starring Brian Dennehy, Carla Cugino, and Pablo Schreiber, directed by Robert Falls. The curtain rises to a gargantuan set of huge hanging boulders, a pig being slaughtered by two slobs, and a big house hanging from the top of the stage, all to raucous music. What were they thinking? Amidst all this nonsense, this rococo excess, three considerable performances are swallowed up, at times lost. When the hothouse beauty Carla Cugino makes her entrance, it's hard to see her. What should be for O'Neill, a lean, tight, drama, is overburdened. We see Cugino giving birth, but we don't see her tragic crime. This is a pity and is perhaps the reason why Dennehy who should loom so large, can't compete with the boulders and house and why his menacing hulk barely registers. He seems merely pathetic and hardly like someone who dominates his family.
The hugely talented Pablo Schreiber manages somewhat better, his hick mannerisms quite a change from his last stage performance in New York in "Reasons to be Pretty." He has a good chemistry with Cugino but even so, the potential which is flashed is never quite reached.
Cugino alone gives a complete performance, remarkable in many instances. She is brave (not only by taking off her clothes) but she is a throwback, a full throttled melodramatic, no-holds-barred flamboyant dramatic actress of a kind that one can see in old films by the likes of Miriam Hopkins and Tallulah Bankhead. She brings it off and may just cop a Tony for her efforts. But she's a jewel in the wrong setting. It made us wonder what she could have accomplished if the director had let her be the show instead of the set.
That Falls has failed badly was demonstrated when the audience in the half empty theater cackled at what should have been the most poignant moment in the play.
Considering the cast, and the extravagent review in the New York Times, we had anticipated this would be the top drama of the season. Alas, it was a tedious clunker. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade C.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Accent on Youth, a play by Samson Raphaelson at the Manhattan Theatre Club Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. In this mostly superb production, with a fabulous set by John Lee Beatty, the stage looks just like 1930's Vandam photos of Broadway's Golden Age of which this 1934 comedy by Samson Raphaelson, a playwright we had not been familiar with, is a stellar example. An expert crafstman, Raphaelson penned some of the most beloved movies in history including "The Shop Around The Corner." Starring David Hyde Pierce in a role that could have been written for him, "Accent on Youth" is a rare treat, a look into drawing room comedies of the 1930's, a genre that is seldom seen on Broadway.
The starring role of Linda Brown is nicely played by Mary Catherine Garrison, a cute ingenue, but considering it was the name role in 1934 when it starred Constance Cummings, it's a pity that an A list star like Kristin Chenoweth wasn't cast. Garrison and Pierce do not strike any sparks, so the best work is done when he's playing against the excellent Byron Jennnings and the hilarious Charles Kimbrough who nearly steals the show as the muscular elderly butler.
We had a great time as did the audience. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade. B

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Exit The King, a play by Eugene Ionesco at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Starring Geoffrey Rush, Susan Sarandon, Lauren Ambrose, William Sadler, Brian Hutchison, and Andrea Martin, directed by Neil Armfield. This was the first time we've seen "Exit the King" and we all found it a powerful meditation on what it means to die, the egoism of the individual, what the achievements of a lifetime amount to, the connections we all have to our loved ones and to the earth. Many plays explore this theme - the great Our Town which is currently having a historic run a the Barrow Street Theater is one of them. But using absurdest elements in a linear style, Ionesco's play hits hard even while eliciting bellyfulls of laughs. Part of this is due to the extraordinary performance of Geoffrey Rush, one of the most dazzling bravura physical demonstrations we've ever seen. Rush is astonishing, and moving as he clings to life, and at the end lets go of it. His performance is matched by two other cast members: beautiful Lauren Ambrose who is also a physical wizard and the herky jerky Guard of Brian Hutchison. They've each found the center of the play. Two other exceptionally skillful players, Andrea Martin and William Sadler play for belly laughs Vaudeville style. They are effective and know their way around a stage, but we felt their approach was inconsistent with the work of Rush and Ambrose. Unfortunately, Susan Sarandon as Queen Marguerite, looking absolutely ravishing in her green gown, is out of her depth. She apparently neither possesses the skill to play her role, nor even the voice. She is miked, and, if possible over miked (the whole cast is miked, but discretely - not so Sarandon), and in her big, key scene at the conclusion of the play, her flat, unmodulated and unsculpted reading of her lines missed countless opportunities with what should have potentially been the most poetic words in the play. How much Martin, Sadler and Sarandon might have benefited from a more unified vision by the director we will never know. 'We also felt cheated, from our upper mezzanine seats, when the King wandered into the audience to perform some of his most effective (but to us invisible) lamentations. But what is great about this production is epically so, most especially the legend in the making performance of Geoffrey Rush making this "King" a must see. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test grade B+

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Waiting For Godot, a play by Samuel Beckett at Studio 54, presented by Roundabout Theatre Co. Starring Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin, John Goodman and John Glover. Directed by Anthony Page. With four superb actors at the top of their game, a terrific set and masterful direction, the venerable absurdist classic is given a near ideal performance at Studio 54. John Glover, a solid actor, gives the performance of his life as Lucky; John Goodman reveals unexpected resources as the bellowing Pozzo; Bill Erwin gives an acting clinic in movement and pathos as Vladimir; and Nathan Lane at last finds a role in a non musical that showcases his mighty talent.
This is a must. It's still in previews. Book now. Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test grade A