Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2014 New York Reviews by Stan Mazin


  MOTHERS and SONS by Terrence McNally
This is a story, apparently a sequel to McNally’s Andre’s Mother, of a mother who has lost her son to Aids, and was so bitter about it that she never gave him the love he deserved. She visits his last lover years after his memorial and this proves to have many very interesting conversations. Enough said about the plot. It is directed by Sheryl Kaller, scenic design by John Lee Beatty, costumes by Jess Goldstein, and lighting by Jeff Croiter.  Tyne Daly is a remarkable actor, as is the rest of the cast, including Frederick Weller, Bobby Steggert, and Grayson Taylor as the now married couple’s adopted boy. It is a slight disappointment that the mother’s role is on one level almost to the end, but it must be that way or the end wouldn’t be significant.  I enjoyed it so much, and McNally’s conversations deserve praise. 

IF/THEN  music by Tom Kitt, book & lyrics by Brian Yorkey, directed by Michael Greif and choreographed by Larry Keigwin, music direction by Carmel Dean, set design by Mark Wendland,
costumes by Emily Rebholz and lighting by Kenneth Posner.  Idina Menzel stars in this show with great support from LaChanze and Anthony Rapp as well as the other cast members. We often wonder in any decision we make what would happen if a different choice is made. If/Then is a show that shows exactly that. Cleverly showing both possibilities in Elizabeth’s (Ms. Menzel) life, the way it is conceived, we never lose touch of which life she is living. She is called Liz in one life, and Beth in the other. The role Ms. Menzel plays is a complex character who has difficulty with romantic commitment. The occurrences with the help of the creative set move the show along nicely.  I wish I could say the songs were more memorable, but I do think they suit the show. And what a joy to hear Idina Menzel’s voice again.

AFTER MIDNIGHT, directed & choreographed by Warren Carlyle, features 26 musical numbers with a cast of 25 competent singers and dancers. If you don’t expect a plot or story about the Cotton Club in what I believe is the 30s, you won’t be disappointed. This is ALL DANCING and ALL SINGING with a live 17 piece band (orchestra) playing the greatest tunes you’ll ever hear.

Vanessa Williams, looking more beautiful than ever, stars in this musical tribute to Harlem. Supporting her are the likes of Dule Hill, Adriane Lenox, Karine Plantadit, Julius ‘iglide’ Chisolm, and Jared Grimes. I would love to name all the talented performers, but I haven’t got  the time, and neither have you. Suffice to say, if you love that music era, you will love After Midnight.

PIPPIN book by Robert O. Hirson, music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, directed by Diane Paulus, choreography by Chet Walker, Circus Creation by Gypsy Snyder, scenic design by Scott Pask, lighting by Kenneth Posner, with costume design by Dominique Lemieux, to name just a few of the designers.
At last I have seen the new Pippin!  Having choreographed one of the former versions of the show, I was more curious than ever to see it.  It is a spectacle, and there is something going on every minute.  This version stars Kyle Dean Massey (a beautiful as well as beautifully acted Pippin), Ciara Renee (the Leading Player… lovely but who can forget Ben Vereen!?!), Terrence Mann (who plays Charlmayne to the hilt… fantastic performance), Charlotte d’Amboise (a beautiful and most erotic Fastrada), Annie Potts (always one of my favorites, playing Berthe with a cane rather than a wheelchair), and finally Rachel Bay Jones (who plays the best Catherine I have ever seen… funny yet sensitive enough to demand audience admiration).  Other members of the cast include many circus type performers who accomplish so much in this show.  And Pippin (Kyle Dean Massey) does so much of the circus work himself, he is astonishing!  BUT… with all the wonderful circus atmosphere, I couldn’t help feeling that oftentimes, the outside movement takes away a little of the focus of this simple story.  But to see Pippin in any style… what a joy!

THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY is such a physically beautiful show, with the help of all involved with book by Marsha Norman, music & lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, and directed by Bartlett Sher, scenic design by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Catherine Zuber, and lighting design by Donald Holder (one of the best parts of this show). Starring Steven Pasquale and Kelli O’Hara (showing us even more range in the talents of this fabulous performer, this time with an Italian accent), it is truly a beauty to watch. This is a classic love story based on the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller about the roads we travel, the doors we open and the bridges we dare to cross.  Although they missed one opportunity to do a slam dunk dance number, that fact didn’t take away from the physical value of the show.  All supporting cast was fine including Derek Klena, playing Ms. O’Hara’s son.  If you recall the movie was not fast moving, and the show has that same pace… but with the lighting and direction it gives us time to appreciate the beauty of the characters as well as the space.  I must say now that this score is one of the most valued assets to the show.


CASA VALENTINA is written by Harvey Fierstein, directed by Joe Mantello, scenic design by Scott Pask, costumes by Rita Ryack, and lighting by Justin Townsend.  The brilliant cast includes Reed Birney, John Cullum, Gabriel Ebert, Lisa Emery, Tom McGowan, Patrick Page, Larry Pine, Nick Westrate, and Mare Winningham.  Based on a weekend ‘lodge’ in the Catskills in the early 60s, Casa Valentina is a haven for cross-dressers from all walks of life.  All the men at one point or other are in dresses. The dialogue is crisp, humorous, and often biting, and the actors couldn’t be better.  I find it difficult to believe that a standard audience in the mid states would find this their cup of tea, due to its special content, theatre-minded people on both coasts will thoroughly enjoy it, as I did.  I even learned a little something about cross-dressers’ feelings… so I was happy.  And I think you will be happy too.

A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER  book and lyrics by Robert Freedman, music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak, and directed to an inch of its life by Darko Tresnjak, this TREASURE is such a fantastic delight.  The writer’s wife, Jeanne Kaufman (a gifted actor in her own right) told me about this show a year ago.  At that time, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder was a mouthful to say … but once you see this cleverly put-together show, you will never forget it.  It stars Bryce Pinkham and Jefferson Mays (I Am My Own Wife). Both have credits too long to list, and both are so brilliant in this farcical musical treat.  They are supported by 9 of the most multi-talented actors on Broadway.  The songs are delicious, as is the direction.  PLEASE do NOT miss this show.  There is no doubt why it claims 10 Tony nominations this year.

     BULLETS OVER BROADWAY… Following a successful movie by Woody Allen is no easy task.  But if anyone can try, Susan Stroman is the one. Written by Woody Allen himself, scenic design by Santo Loquasto, costume design by William Ivey Long, lighting design by Donald Holder, musical coordinator by Howard Joines, and directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, this musical accomplishes that narrow margin between a successful movie and a successful Broadway musical.  I have always said to many that you shouldn’t compare these two media… but here I am breaking my own rules slightly.  Marin Mazzie who is no novice to the musical stage, displays her ability to great advantage.  However, being super critical, I wondered how we could get away from the divine Dianne Weist’s “Don’t Speak!” recognition.  This is a musical and I thought why couldn’t Zach Braff begin to sing, then she could say “Don’t Sing!”  Then certainly that would be her own distinctive line to remember her forever.  And Jennifer Tilly’s voice was so super recognizable, it was impossible for Helene Yorke to compare, even though she was outstanding in her part.  Nick Cordero, playing Cheech was also notable as was Karen Ziemba and the remaining cast.  I would love for someone to write a musical specifically for Ms. Ziemba’s great talent.  And lastly, there is no doubt Susan Stroman is the Mistress of Movement, but the last number seemed a bit forced, only to have a ‘big finish’… but what she does throughout the show is nothing short of brilliant.  Overall, I doubt anyone would be disappointed.  I loved it.

ROCKY… What a surprise!!!  I am not a sports fan, but the way this show was put together made me a Rocky fan.  The book is by Thomas Meehan and Sylvester Stallone, the music by Stephen Flaherty, the lyrics by Lynn Ayrens, choreography (great fighting and staging) by Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine, and finally directed by Alex Timbers.  Andy Karl as Rocky is mesmerizing… sensitive, charismatic, charming, good looking, and a great singer as well as great actor.  The cast was superb, and the show moved along very well, but the true ‘star’ of the show, or at least the one thing that added to this person’s delight, was the scenic design by Christopher Barreca.  I won’t spoil it for you, but when you see what he does for the fight at the end of the show, it will be difficult for you to stay in your seats.  I don’t see how that part of the show can travel, so my advice is to see it at the Winter Garden in NYC.  I didn’t expect much when I entered the theatre, but I came out loving this show.

I think that is it for this year… but I'll keep you posted.
-Stan Mazin


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