Thursday, December 16, 2010


Michel Altieri as Dracula

Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston’s adaptation of DRACULA made its Broadway debut in 1927 and made Bela Lagosi immortal as the title character, for he went on to make the film version of the stage play as we all know. The original production ran a season and then toured for two more years. In 1977, Frank Langella put his stamp on the role and also starred in a subsequent film version. That production won the Tony for Best Revival and played 900 performances on a unique set design by Edward Gorey. Now at the Little Shubert Off Broadway, that same 1927 version of DRACULA is back. This production has its little changes, edits and adjustments, but it is more like the production an audience might have seen in the ‘20s than it should be. That is to say, we have been through a lot with Dracula since Bella Lagosi and the melodramatic hokum of that era’s stage is hard to take seriously today. I wanted to love this production so much, but it was impossible. This material is delicate, for there are nearly ridiculous and grandiose lines that must be said, the trick of Dracula turning into a bat, the ladies fainting and screaming at the sight of shadows and recorded noises such as wolves howling and bats squeaking is all a bit sticky. The vampire recoils from the cross, he smashes a mirror when it is discovered that he does not reflect in it, and overly familiar words like, “I never” are uttered. There are also hokey comic bits between a maid and caretaker, Renfield eating his bugs and the pounding of a stake through Dracula’s heart. How to handle all of this so the audience doesn’t giggle? Very carefully, but director Paul Alexander doesn’t seem to have the touch and neither does most of the cast.

Helming the production as Van Helsing is the commanding George Hearn, who gives the entire production credibility. Right behind him is the stalwart Timothy Jerome as Dr. Seward. These two veterans handle this dusty material expertly and everything they say and do is utterly believable. Less so for everyone else, though they give it the old college try, which is all the production amounts to: no more than a rudimentary college production distinguished only by the guest appearance of George Hearn.

Frank Langella as Dracula

Jake Silbermann, known to soap fans as Noah on “As the World Turns,” is Jonathan Harker. He is handsome and likable, but he hasn’t the ability to live within this particular world and comes off as out of place in his British accent and uncomfortable period starched collar and suit. Katherine Luckinbill as the comic maid gets by, but her role asks her to participate in some hocus-pocus that she barely makes believable. As Butterworth the caretaker to Renfield, Rob O’Hare creates a fun comic character that is just about what the play requires of him.

Jake Silbermann as Jonathan Harker

Two characters are rather miss-cast. The worst offense is John Buffalo Mailer (who happens to be the son of Norman Mailer) as Renfield. He is taller than anyone on stage and a strapping lad who is more in line of a romantic leading hero than the slight, bug-eyed, quirky character we have always known Renfield to be. He is played as a southern American with a slow drawl. He isn’t convincingly crazy and he is so robust that when he throws his fits it is unbelievable that the shorter Butterworth could ever control him. I kept waiting for Renfield to throw chairs around the room and single handedly toss Butterworth out the window. Renfield is a great character and a substantial one, both lovable and weird, and here he is such a disappointment that literally half the fun of the production has been sacrificed. The other disappointment is the hard working Emily Bridges (daughter of Beau Bridges) as Lucy, who was thrust into the role days ago when the original actress, Thora Birch, was fired. She tries, bless her, but she hasn’t the beguiling presence to captivate us. Her particular affliction, which takes on a subtle insanity and requires her to be startled by bats on wires and fall under the hypnotic spell of Dracula, not to mention deliver impossible lines of a 1920s ingenue as if she believed them, does not sell.

Now to Dracula, played by the Italian actor making his American stage debut, Michel Altieri: He looks great and has an exotic accent, but he does not possess that otherworldly magic personality that is required. This quality is hard to describe and impossible to teach. So, it is not enough that Mr. Altieri looks right and is dressed in cape and tuxedo, but he must be mesmerizing. Two famous lines from the 1930 film have been added to the play, “I never” and “Children of the night, what music they make.” Mr. Altieri can’t say them with any sense of the weight they held when Bela Lagosi said them. In fact, he throws them away, which kept them from being silly, but did nothing to define the character as they had with Bela Lagosi. It wasn’t worth sticking the lines into the play.

Bela Lagosi as Dracula

That leaves us with George Hearn and Timothy Jerome to hold the show together and it isn’t enough. DRACULA is hard. It must be treated like Shakespeare or the Greek plays where great care is taken to get the line readings to sound natural. It takes a highly seasoned and probably classically trained actor to take these old lines into their being and bring them to life in a way we can believe in them. This cast is full of youngsters without the chops to handle the job, which is why it feels like a college production.

The set by Dana Kenn is old fashioned in its utilitarian aspects, but rather attractive and mood enducing––it was my favorite element of the production. Combined with Willa Kim’s Edwardian costumes and Brian Nason’s very effective lighting, the show looks wonderfully spooky. A few staging touches also make the show enjoyable such as Renfield crawling upside-down along the wall of the Sanatarium (aided by Flying by Foy), a bat flying in the window and up into the rafters was a fun moment, and Dracula dissolving out of sight while in the clutches of Van Helsing and Dr. Stewart was a real surprise. Still, no magic trick could save the production, for the cast just isn’t up to it. For the bows, the theme from SWAN LAKE was played as it had been for the credits of the 1930 film, but Helsing did not hush the audience with his famous last words:

“When you get home tonight and the lights have been turned out and you are afraid to look behind the curtains and you dread to see a face appear at the window...why, just pull yourself together and remember that after all, there are such things.”

Set design by Dana Kenn

Monday, December 13, 2010

Billy Elliot Two Years In

Now two years in to the run, BILLY ELLIOT holds up. The performance I attended on Sunday evening gave us the surprise of director Stephen Daldry taking the stage at the top of the show to inform us that the “Billy” of the evening, Dayton Travares, would be giving his final performance. Travares is from Australia and had played Billy all through the Australian run. His entire family moved to New York so he could continue on with the Billy family for a little while longer on Broadway. Daldry gave a lovely heartfelt speech, thanking Travares and his parents for letting the Billy family share in his childhood. Now his voice was changing (many alternate notes were taken in the songs) and he is off to embark on his final spring into adulthood. But for this last night Travares gave an exemplary performance. It doesn’t seem to matter which boy you see as Billy, he simply controls the hearts of the audience and key numbers such as “Solidarity”, “Dream Ballet” and “Electricity” get the usual incredible reception that literalizes the concept of stopping the show. By comparison to other Billy’s past and present, Travares wasn’t the best singing Billy or even the best dancing Billy, but he was genuine, as all the boys who play the character must naturally be, and his talents were considerable enough to amaze us. It is a wonder what path all these fantastic boys who have had the glory of heading a Broadway mega-hit will take as the years go on.

Gregory Jbara continues on as Dad, but he is milking all of his bits further than he can go. He is acting like an old school Broadway clown in a show that has nothing to do with a star comedian turn. He has become comedically drunk in the Christmas scene, robbing us of the beauty of his folk song, “Deep Into the Ground.” The “esquire” bit with Billy’s letter and the business with the smoking ballet dancer are all prolonged as if Bert Lahr had taken over his body. Stephen Daldry was watching from the back, so maybe there will be a notes session before the next performance, or maybe it is time for Jbara to move on––despite the Tony.

Carole Shelley is still in as Grandma and she has become delightfully batty. If it were possible to dance even less of her choreography than she started with, she has mastered it. However, it is astonishing how she keeps finding little new things in her character.

Laura Marie Duncan is the new “Dead Mum” and she is just right. Some how Stephen Hanna keeps dancing “Older Billy,” now with an extra spring to it. Tommie Retter seems to be all the more enjoyable as Mr. Braithwaite and works his hideously greasy hair for all it’s worth. Neil McCaffrey, who was so great as Randolph in the BYE, BYE BIRDIE revival last season, is ideal as Billy’s cross-dressing friend Michael.

This production has always taken its time to make moments count––a different quality than Broadway’s usually slick, fast and funny mechanized production values. However, some of the moments in the second act have become MOOOOOMMMEEENNNTS. Still, outside of the show needing a little tightening, it delivers where it counts and BILLY ELLIOT holds its own as one of the really great shows of the decade.

During the finale the other Billys were watching the show from the box seats and cheering on their friend Dayton as he danced his last tap dance. It was a special occasion and as the audience departed, behind the act curtain could be heard the voices of the cast privately singing “Happy Trails to You” as a collective good-bye to Dayton Travares.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Uncle Tom's Cabin

George Lee Miles as Tom

I have missed the few assorted productions of UNCLE TOM’S CABIN that have popped up in small theaters over the past ten years, but these have been deconstructions or modern politicized adaptations of the Harriet Beecher Stowe novel from 1852. Within six months of the release of that all important American novel came numerous unauthorized stage adaptations including the one that would settle into the position of the version written by George L. Aiken. This three act coherent melodrama has been the dominating version and for the Twentieth Century and on it has been the only version left for posterity from that pre-Civil War era. So I was excited to finally have the chance to see the Aiken version presented in whole at the Metropolitan Playhouse.

After a kind of out of town tryout in Troy, New York produced by George C. Howard, Aiken’s adaptation opened in New York City at Purdy’s National Theater and ran nearly a year (The program notes stated that Aiken’s version also ran at Barnum’s Museum, but that was actually another version by H. J. Conway which favored the anti-abolitionist cause). For the 1850s this was a record breaking run and the play retained its immense popularity in touring productions and revivals throughout the century. Not only was UNCLE TOM’S CABIN the most important American play of the Nineteenth Century, but it changed the style of programing forever. Before UNCLE TOM’S CABIN a melodrama would play as a first act and then the “after piece” would follow, which was generally an unrelated variety program of songs dances and concert selections. The band being on hand for this part of the program would underscore the preceding play and therefor we get the genre melo-drama. Due to the length of the play and a feeling that the traditional after piece would tarnish the production as low entertainment, the play was presented by itself, thereby starting the tradition of the stand alone play in American popular theater.

Inserted into a melodrama would be various songs, mostly derived within the drama from natural sources. As the years went by and various adaptations came and went, UNCLE TOM’S CABIN as a whole might be littered with more songs and dances, which historically added to the play’s connection to the minstrel show. Indeed, it was the case that the black characters were all played by white actors in black face. Put that aspect aside, however, and you have a serious story about the tragedy of slavery, which like the novel, greatly influenced the attitudes that built up to why we fought the Civil War. In fact, Lincoln was said to have commented to Harriet Beecher Stowe that more or less she was “the cause of the great war.”

Uncle Tom’s subservient “Yes Massa” nature mixed with the insult of black faced actors cartooning the experience of black citizens have made the title politically poisonous. I would like to think that in the Twenty-first Century we could look at this work with fresh eyes and thanks to the humble production directed by Alex Roe, with an excellent small company doubling the numerous roles, this proves to be possible. The character of Uncle Tom is, in his non-combative way, insisting that God is looking after him and will do right by him. He is able to convince his master that slavery is fundamentally wrong, but his master dies before he can free Tom, resulting in Tom’s sale to the cruel Simon Legree. Despite Tom’s pleas for tolerance, Simon will not be told his business by a slave and beats Tom to death. In his last words Tom exclaims that he knows God will finally free him. A final image of Tom reaching up to the light as an Angel descends from the heavens was not realized in this production, but we got the idea. Other historical productions showed Tom reunited with the other main characters in a cabin in the sky, which is like the ending we get from Tup-Tim’s Asian ballet version in THE KING AND I.

"Small House of Uncle Thomas" from THE KING AND I

There is no real point to staging Aiken’s UNCLE TOM’S CABIN today save for historical interest, for it rambles around for three hours and is definitely a production of mid-Nineteenth Century American Theatre. When acted by a fine cast, the dust of the years is not exactly blown off the piece, but the story can be told with intelligence and any relationship to the minstrel genre is virtually nonexistent. This production was distinguished by the contribution of George Lee Miles as Tom. Not only did he physically have a domineering presence, but his resonant voice explored the musicality of the words to mesmerizing effect and made Tom the noble human character he was always intended to be. Also excellent was Marcie Hendersen as Eliza, who escapes with her son Harry (a clever puppet) across the ice to Canada to meet her husband George (Rafael Jordan). Rick Delaney distinguished himself in his several roles, but especially as Tom’s sympathetic master who is converted to emancipator. Another historically controversial character is Topsy, who was played as an uneducated, undisciplined teenager with a heart of gold by Alex Marshall-Brown. This actress had, perhaps, the biggest challenge, for if the shiftless stereotypical “darky” character exists anywhere in the play it is with Topsy. In this production we can see Topsy as a product of her upbringing: sold into slavery as a baby and raised without education, religion, or family. She can be seen as a parallel to a girl of the contemporary urban ghetto. It is up to Ophelia (Lisa Riegel) to tame the unruly teenager. When she begins this seemingly impossible task, Ophelia is admittedly prejudiced, but through time comes to love Topsy and see her as a daughter. Aiken’s (and Stowe’s) imploring for change is very clear and any thoughts that UNCLE TOM’S CABIN is racist outside of racism as its topic, has not seen the play and is carrying an age old grudge against a work that is much more than the story’s splintered history. The play was worth it at the Metropolitan Playhouse and will be worth it in the future by other conscientious artists interested in exploring this most American of American plays.

The Duncan Sisters in a production in San Francisco, 1923

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

La Bête

David Hirson’s 1991 Moliere inspired comedy, written in iambic pentameter no less, only made it 25 performances at the Eugene O’Neill Theater the first time out. A subsequent West End production was a hit with Alan Cumming in it and then the strange thing happened: the Broadway flop became a favorite among the regional theaters. For a play that only ran 25 performances it is pretty well known. Now Matthew Warchus has directed a West End revival and moved it to Broadway for a fall run starring Mark Rylance, David Hyde Pierce and Joanna Lumley––well known to the London stage and TV fans of “Absolutely Fabulous,” making her Broadway debut. The performances from the main three carry the show and few things on the boards are as wondrous and deliciously funny as Mark Rylance as Valere the fop, running off at the mouth for a solid 30 minutes before taking a breath to let David Hyde Pierce as Elomire get a word in edgewise. Elomire is the court supported head of the royal acting troupe and Valere enters to destroy good taste and run away with the “new” acting company under his empty guidance and vapid plays. Valere is nothing but hot air––almost literally as he startlingly releases in burps and farts––while Elomire seems to be the only one to hold firm against the deterioration of good form and educated thought.

The production is presented in a near two hours without intermission and it bubbles along swiftly to an end without giving one a chance to fully embrace the bigger ideas at hand (a man behind me uttered: “That’s the play?” after the final moment). It takes a bit of thought and conversation to put it all together after the laughs have petered out, which is the kind of play that Elomire hopes for, but is saying good-bye to.

Set and costume design was by Mark Thompson who gave us floor to infinity book cases stacked with books and his 17th Century costumes were understated on the right people and beautifully over done on the other right people. If the play lost in 1991 just as Elomire seems to in the play, this time he actually won. This revival isn’t lasting a full season, but it’s done much better than the original production and will continue to delight in regional theaters just as it has for the past two decades.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


If you still delight in an annual viewing of the TV puppet-toon “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” or “Santa Clause is Coming to Town,” ELF is quite like those holiday specials come to life. Based on the film of the same name, Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin have composed a peppy Broadway score to go with Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin’s adaptation of the screenplay. This is no surprise of a score, but it is tuneful and it serves the proceedings, which are all full of delight, good will and holiday cheer. A nice new addition to the Christmas song catalog is the less than creatively titled, but wholly charming “A Christmas Song.” A clever number called “I’ll Believe in You”––a kind of anti-Christmas list––puts conditions on whether or not Beth Leavel as the mom and Matthew Gumley as the son will believe in Santa Clause and the two sing extremely well together. Mark Jacoby is the overworked father who neglects his family while the son just wants a day with his dad for Christmas. Anyone who can deliver that gift must be Santa Clause!

However, the main story here is that the Elf in question, Buddy, played with delightful glee by Sebastian Arcelus, has been informed that he’s actually human (which explains why he’s so tall), so he heads down to New York to find his real dad––the overworked Mark Jacoby. Either by accident or on purpose; by his innocence or his unorthodox resourcefulness, Buddy manages to fix the family and bring enough Christmas cheer to New York to keep Santa’s magic sleigh afloat (George Wendt supplies a cuddly off beat Santa). Along the way Buddy even finds a girlfriend in the depressed Amy Spanger whose life is brightened by his positive outlook and habit of breaking into cheerful song.

Casey Nicholaw has staged an old-fashioned musical comedy of the kind one might have seen around the late 1940s on David Rockwell’s wing and drop set adorned with Natasha Katz’s colorful lighting and animated projections. Gregg Barnes’ costumes walk the line between TV Christmas Variety Special and a true expression of character, which is to say: exactly as it should be.

This light hearted and bouncy show has as much for the adults as for the kids, but it is aimed directly at the audience that needs a little Christmas now and no one else. It makes a nice alternative to THE NUTCRACKER or the RADIO CITY CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR. Humbugs stay home.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Milk Milk Lemonade

Although Joshua Conkel’s askew serio-comedy about bullying seems to be of this very moment, it actually made its premier a year ago at the little basement theater, UNDER ST. MARK’S. Having just finished a run at the Astoria Performing Arts Center during a fall that had the topic of bullying all over the news, Conkel and APAC couldn’t have anticipated producing anything more relevant. The sad truth is that Conkel’s depiction of a feminine eleven year old boy who is bullied by a tough neighbor boy is a typical experience in some form or another for scores of young gay boys through history. What is so surprising is not so much that Conkel has written a play about the subject, but that the issue of bullying has only just become an openly national discussion. Finally! More productions in other cities are in the works and with the current discourse it is obvious why Conkel’s play dealing with a major topic of the moment would be embraced.

Outside of shining a light on a very serious issue previously ignored, MILK MILK LEMONADE belongs to the Absurdist tradition and a kind of gay camp theatre of yore that was perhaps most developed by the likes of the late Charles Ludlam and lives on with the work of Charles Bush. Men play women and women play men in this theatre world where gender identity is challenged on a variety of levels. The very boyish, but adult Andy Phelan plays our hero, Emory, the eleven year old sissified boy who choreographs to “Anything Goes” and dreams about making it on a TV talent competition from his lonely home on a farm. Michael Cyril Creighton plays Nanna, his chain smoking grandmother who wheels around an oxygen tank and commands poor Emory to act more like a real boy. Which is to say he should toss around a baseball with the rugged delinquent neighbor boy, Elliot, played by the tough as nails (and female) Jess Barbagallo. Elliot harasses Emory relentlessly, having pegged him as gay, though Emory has only just come to realize this truth. Another type of aggression comes out in the form of playing house, which in Emory’s delightful way resembles a Tennessee William’s play and the game develops into sex. Yes the sissy boy might be gay, but so is the tough kid, showing that outward appearances can be deceiving. Elliot over compensates for his gayness while Emory is outwardly expressive through his creative endeavors. Emory’s best friend is a chicken named Linda (Jennifer Harder), whose thoughts are hilariously interpreted by the narrator of the play, Nikole Beckwith. It is part of Emory’s growing up that he must confront the reality that Linda can’t be his pet forever, but that she is actually food and will be processed like all the other chickens.

Jason Simm’s set design looks like a Crayola crayon child’s drawing of a barnyard meant for a children’s morning TV show on PBS. However, thanks to Conkel and director José Zayas, this was one twisted children’s show. After having seen Pee-Wee Herman only days before, I felt I was living in one strange world. Emory’s world is not nearly as enchanted as Pee-Wee’s, but it is just as subversive and appropriately for the theme, rather a nightmare. The hope that emanates from Emory’s awful situation is something like Dan Savage’s Youtube “It Gets Better” campaign, that Emory finds a way to deal with his suffering and lives for his dreams that one day he will indeed escape the horrors of childhood to find out that life will get better.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Pee-Wee Herman Show

The Henry Miller Theatre has been renamed The Stephen Sondheim and the strange first occupant of this year old most modern of theaters on Broadway is Pee-Wee Herman. This is of course the man-child character from the 1980s created by Paul Reubens. The character of Pee-Wee was developed with the improv group, The Groundlings, in Los Angeles in 1981. The act moved to the Roxy on Sunset Strip and ran for five months, inspiring an HBO special, introducing Pee-Wee to a national audience. I came to know the character in Tim Burton’s wacky film, PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE in 1985. Following the success of the film came the Saturday morning TV show, PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE on CBS. The show won 22 Emmy Awards during its five-year run. As a college student, all my friends talked about the TV show and loved its subversive humor. It worked for kids and adults the way a good Bugs Bunny cartoon did. Now on Broadway the TV show is live in a 90 minute reunion of all the favorite characters on a re-creation of the familiar playhouse set. The audience is filled with both adults and their kids. Pee-Wee Herman has been out of the scene for about two decades, so this Broadway appearance is a real come back and as far as the crowd is concerned, Pee-Wee is as good as ever. He is as beloved as Kermit the Frog, Mickey Mouse or Captain Kangaroo as evidenced by the tremendous reception he received upon his first entrance. Without fanfare a spot light hit the wing before the closed curtain and after a pause of anticipation, Pee-Wee Herman walked into the light and the crowd went wild. He greeted the audience with typical Herman joy, sang a little song for us as a kind of introduction and then made us stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, which we all did. He disappeared behind the curtain and it went up to reveal the playhouse, which received cheers for its familiarity.

People who never got into Pee-Wee or missed him entirely in the ‘80s will not understand the audience’s mania during the course of this show. However, if you grew up on Pee-Wee and were a fan during his hay day, his ageless presence now on Broadway is more than a delight, but a thrill. He arrives to say hi to all the familiar friends of the playhouse: Chairy, Jambi, Miss Yvonne and the rest. The original Mailman Mike, John Moody, is on hand and Lynne Marie Stewart re-creates Miss Yvonne. All the bits, gags, and every kind of thing that used to happen on the TV show is jam-packed into the Broadway show. The new things are funny, such as Pee-Wee getting his first computer and instantly making it his life and neglecting his real friends in the room, but each old familiar thing receives a huge reaction from the crowd. The secret word of the day is “fun” and we were asked to scream every time we heard it. Not a “fun” got past the audience, but even without the secret word the audience was having a ball and would cheer and applaud every last occurrence, right down to Pee-Wee’s stock sayings such as, “I know you are, but what am I?” his signature laugh and his famous dance to “Tequila.”

The proceedings were directed by Alex Timbers, new to the Pee-Wee family, but just about everything else to do with the production was handled by people originally associated with the TV show. Hopefully the producers will see the worth of filming the show for TV as it is one terrific reunion special. More than that, let’s hope Pee-Wee finds a new way into our lives either on TV or film, for his way of drawing in both children and adults and teaching his simple lessons of dealing with the turbulence of modern day life are just as useful and entertaining as ever. Just when we need him most Pee-Wee has reappeared to brighten our day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


This sweet and quirky comedy, based on a novel by Ingvar Ambjornsen from Norway, made its debut in Oslo in 1999. A film version won the Oscar for Best Foreign Picture in 2002. The play has been seen all over Europe and now, finally, we have it on Broadway with Denis O’Hare in the title role and Brendan Fraser starring opposite him as friend Kjell. Jennifer Coolidge is the featured woman playing multiple roles and Richard Easton and Jeremy Shamos appear in supporting roles. This is an English adaptation by Simon Bent from the play and screenplay by Axel Hellstenius and Petter Naess. This tidy little play is very simply designed by Scott Pask for the set and Catherine Zuber for the costumes. Director Doug Hughes refers to the play as “Children’s Theatre for Adults.” This doesn’t really refer to the child-like nature of the characters, but rather the style of presentation, which has the actors moving two beds, a table and a few chairs around to depict the various spaces they inhabit. This hands on aspect of the production adds to the charm of the whole thing and with this cast it is very charming indeed.

When the curtain goes up there is applause for the movie star Brendan Fraser, looking strangely hefty and nothing like his familiar action hero movie image. Then out pops the Broadway star, Denis O’Hare, and again there is healthy applause. The first woman to walk on stage is someone we’ve never seen before and she is not welcomed with applause. Turns out, five lines in, that she is a well disguised Jennifer Coolidge. In the next scene she walks on looking more familiar and is greeted with applause. I felt a little sorry for her on her first entrance, having to follow the two leading men after hearing entrance applause and then walking on to nothing. Doug Hughes didn’t consider this, but then again I saw the very first performance and perhaps something will be done to help that. Not that anything that is staged is wrong, but there is an unfortunate imbalance in the way the stars are introduced. Poor Richard Easton has a thankless role, but he is enjoyable in his small way, while Jeremy Shamos as the Social Worker has a meatier part and gives a good sturdy performance in the “straight” role to the comedians.

The comedians are wonderful. Brendan Fraser and Denis O’Hare play two men released from the asylum to prove whether or not they can share a regular apartment and survive in society. The humor is in how they negotiate the real world as essentially boys in men’s bodies. Jennifer Coolidge keeps showing up in new wigs and costumes, creating one comic character after the other. A number of good actresses could be funny in this role, but there is something so specifically tickling about Jennifer Coolidge and she made the show for me.

I wonder what kind of room there is for a little comedy like this in today’s Broadway? I would hope, because this play is inherently theatrical, that it will be embraced and run long enough to make back its investment. The play has three well liked actors who should help sell tickets and it is both heartfelt and funny, so there is no reason why it should not be a success. However, the unusual subject mixed with the lightness of it might make it seem unimportant and in today’s economy a Broadway show must seem important. There must be an important subject, an important performance, or an impressive staging. There must be the excitement of a promised thrill that is then delivered. ELLING is none of these things and perhaps its life is really meant for the regional theatre market where I can imagine it will be enjoyed often. It will be interesting to see how this production fares. I would like to see it win.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Eric Simonson has written a biography play about legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, based on an occurrence in David Maraniss’ book When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi. What is unexpected is that the play is a lot more about a fictional reporter from Look Magazine by the name of Michael McCormick who stays with Lombardi and his wife to write an article about what makes the winning coach tick. After a disagreeable article came out in Esquire Magazine about Lombardi, he hopes that by inviting this young reporter into his home for a week he will get a counter-article in print. However, McCormick finds Lombardi to be quite elusive and his character is impossible to crack. He gains most of his information from second hand sources––primarily the wife and also from members of the Green Bay Packers, who are reluctant to talk much. So, the play becomes much more about reporter Michael McCormick’s obsession with the Green Bay Packers than revealing the character and life of Vince Lombardi. Lombardi is off stage for long stretches, only to come tromping on to bark orders and put unruly team members (or reporters) in their place. The entire goal of this man is winning and he is single minded about it. He is so fixed on the goal of turning a losing team into a winning team that he loses sleep over it and his health is sacrificed, but these are only minor irritations rather than setbacks, for what happens is what we know going in: the Green Bay Packers become a champion team.

Although the dramatic arc is weak and the title character seems to be only half realized, the 95 minute play is swift and engaging as directed by Thomas Kail and designed for the round by David Korins. Screens drop in to decorate the show with projected montages and the play board is projected as animation on the stage floor to depict the famous “Power Sweep” play. The Circle in the Square Theater naturally replicates the Football arena and so a wonderful atmosphere for this particular story is created. This is a genre of theatre I like to call “The Obsession Play,” where a lead character spends the play obsessing over the topic and showing us why he or she thinks it is so interesting. If done well we are swept up into the obsession a bit and this is definitely the case with LOMBARDI. What is unstatisfying is that McCormick never gets to unlock the secrets of his subject.

Lombardi is played perfectly by Dan Lauria, known to all as the dad on The Wonder Years. Judith Light creates a distinctive character as Marie Lombardi and it is comforting to have this familiar actress hanging about, which is about all she does, though her delightful personality enriches the proceedings. Keith Nobbs is perfectly cast as the reporter, for he looks just like the person as he is described in the lines of the play and he has that particular “New Yorker” delivery that can only come from someone raised in New York as Mr. Nobbs has been. Mr. Nobbs is likable and though he is small of stature, he can hold the audience in a big way, which is imperative since he is essentially the protagonist of the play.

LOMBARDI is a bit light weight for such a big subject and the fans of the sport will walk away learning nothing new about the coach, but it doesn’t take a sports fan to appreciate a good performance and LOMBARDI is that.

The actual Vince Lombardi

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Scottsboro Boys

Patrons arriving at the Lyceum Theater

Fred Ebb died in 2004 and did not live to see his show CURTAINS, written with John Kander, open on Broadway. Another show by the legendary pair who gave us CABARET and CHICAGO was THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS and after an Off Broadway run at the Vineyard Theatre last season, it has finally opened on Broadway at the Lyceum. Susan Stroman has staged it and David Thompson has written the book. Fred Ebb was the one with the big idea that the true story should be told in the style of a minstrel show. This sounds like a bold and controversial choice, but on the other hand using the world of show business as a way to frame a musical has always been Kander and Ebb’s way. Whether it is CABARET’S Kit Kat Klub, CHICAGO’S Vaudeville show, or KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN’S Hollywood musical film dreams, “Show Biz” has enabled Kander and Ebb to be both entertaining and deal with their very serious subjects all at once. This story takes place in the 1930s, a time when the American minstrel tradition was being brought back to life in the movies––viewed as a nostalgic old time form of entertainment that dated back to the 1840s. Even in the 1940s when Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were putting on minstrel shows in the barn, the genre was not looked at as inappropriate. This politically charged form turns out to be perfect for allowing for an exhilarating show and a playground for exploring this important story of social justice and an early civil rights benchmark.

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in BABES IN ARMS

The story, in short, concerns a group of black young men who, while riding the rails looking for work, were accused by two white women of rape. This was an out and out lie and caused the boys to go through numerous trials over a period of years for a crime they didn’t commit. A few of them were released from prison and years later a few more as well, but all of their lives were ruined. This sounds like a depressing story––it’s horrifying actually––but Kander and Ebb’s good old fashioned show tunes and Susan Stroman’s cake walks and tap dances brighten the whole thing up to a rousing and satirical good time. Even the dramatic scenes are performed in a heightened style in keeping with the minstrel show idea, but somehow, despite the highly choreographed nature, those scenes are still harrowing.

The design of the production is simple, with Stroman moving chairs around to help define spaces under a triplet of askew proscenium arches. Drapes come and go to help with the showmanship, but the bulk of the presentation is up to the fantastic cast who plays not only the boys of the title, but multiple other roles. The cast is all men, headed by John Cullum in the position of Interlocutor, Colman Domingo as the traditional Mr. Bones and Forrest McClendon as Mr. Tambo. Rosa Parks (Sharon Washington) is hovering around the whole time looking very significant, but doing nothing significant. The role will shortly become a bore for the actress, for she doesn’t sing or dance and has only one line. Still, her final moment is well worth the decision to add her.

The boys are played by Josh Breckenridge, Derrick Combey, Jeremy Gumbs, Joshua Henry, Rodney Hicks, Kendrick Jones, James T. Lane, Julius Thomas III., and Christian Dante White. The group sings and dances up a storm and the show offers each an opportunity to show off his strengths. The youngest, playing the 13 year old Eugene, has perhaps the most beautiful voice of the show. He is Jeremy Gumbs dancing a mean tap number in “Electric Chair” and shining forth with a golden lyrical voice in “Go Back Home.” He is a boy and his voice has not dropped, but he looks to be in danger of suddenly growing up, so hurry down to the Lyceum to see him before he gets replaced for daring to hit adolescence.

This is a great show––totally entertaining, historically fascinating, emotionally charged and such an unexpected gift to have a new Kander and Ebb show on Broadway.

The Scottsboro Boys in action

Monday, October 25, 2010

In The Wake

Lisa Kron

Lisa Kron was a founding member of the political theatre group “The Five Lesbian Brothers,” and was well received on Broadway in 2006 with her play, WELL. Now at the Public Theatre she has turned in IN THE WAKE, an elaborate conversation about contemporary politics––jump starting from the Bush/Gore election and ending somewhere shortly after the Bush/Kerry election. Between those two bench marks of recent history was a very turbulent time and Kron’s group of people, residing in an East Village apartment of New York City, have a lot to say about it. The playwright’s opinion is definitely presented, but she is willing to argue both sides of any issue. Still, her disillusionment with American politics and the American Democratic system are more than underlined––it is shouted with arms flailing about in the character of Ellen, played believably by Marin Ireland and in the quieter and perhaps more effective voice of Judy, played with a well crafted characterization by Deirdre O’Connell.

The first act, which lasted an hour and a half to intermission, went along nicely enough in a well paced, old school, well made play fashion of yesteryear. Ellen is the talkative leading player who can’t help but rage on about the injustice of the political system, but appreciates the founding fathers’ creation of a government that allowed for change. Her live in boyfriend, Danny (in an endearing Rob Reiner style performance by Michael Chernus) is amiable and is the calming force to Ellen’s manic energy. He is the peace maker between his apartment and the neighboring family members of his lesbian sister and her partner. Moreover, Ellen engages in her own lesbian relationship with Amy (Jenny Bacon) who claims to feel too much while Ellen thinks too much. The all understanding Danny is waiting to see if Ellen’s lesbian fling will simply play itself out and she will choose him over Amy. But this story line is insignificant to Kron’s main motivation for the play, which is to have a heated conversation about the turbulence of the past decade in politics. She wants us to see that the same privileged few who made the Constitution are represented now by similar people who are still at the top holding the power and that the poor and disenfranchised are still at the bottom. It’s not that there haven’t been changes or re-shifting or even improvements here and there, but as Judy explains, no matter how may Band-Aids you put on it, that same fundamental structure remains.

I would like to say that IN THE WAKE is the rarest of things: a lesbian play. However, this play does not really explore lesbian politics as The Five Lesbian Brothers had done in the past, but more refreshingly just supplies characters that happen to be lesbians, making them visible upon the stage. Their mere existence in the commercial theatre is in itself a political statement, though they do no more than engage in perfectly natural everyday behavior. There is an unspoken statement that the lesbian experience is a facet of the American experience, but this idea is not even driven home. Instead we are stuck with the second act, which dramatically shifts in pace and structure, spiraling out of control into a mess of the collapse of Ellen’s odd little family. Perhaps the shorter scenes in multiple locations, interrupted by Ellen talking to the audience to expound upon the metaphor that she can’t see in her blind spot, are all supposed to mirror the chaos of the past decade. Ellen’s world is falling apart as the outside world is falling apart. Even if that was the intent, it made for a disjointed play, with no resolution of the main characters. Kron doesn’t seem to want to tell a story at all, but just let Ellen funnel her anxieties. For all that, Kron has come up with some terrific lines––stunning gems that underline her point of view succinctly and which illicit laughs of recognition. One does think, “I haven’t thought about it quite that way before...that’s interesting.”

All of this would be more effective if the perfectly good, modern story was emphasized over the debating. Kron wouldn’t have to loose her main points or her brilliant one-liners to do it either. This is a play with important ideas worth the discussion, but it is such a downer in the second act, that it is difficult to not check the watch in hopes for a clue to know just when the misery of Ellen will all come crashing to an end.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Great Unknown

A wonderful entry in the New York Musical Theatre Festival was THE GREAT UNKNOWN composed by Jim Wann of PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES fame and a book by William Hauptman best known for the book of BIG RIVER. This small contained musical told the post Civil War historical story of John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Colorado River with a group of war veterans. Powell was played by Broadway veteran Tom Hewitt, who has filled out and aged a bit from his days as Frank Wildhorn’s DRACULA or ROCKY HORROR’S Frank N Furter. He is now a distinguished and robust looking man ready for a new era of roles and he leads this cast like the captain of the boat his character is. Powell’s brother Walter (Dan Amboyer) was a survivor of the Andersonville prison and returned home to find his brother had married the girl he was hoping to marry. She is Emma Powell, the only female character of prominence played by Kristin Maloney. The story focusses on the expedition party made up of the brothers and four men. There are pantomimed depictions of the various legs of the journey down river and camp stops––the compass breaks and the provisions are lost in the treacherous rapids. What is really discussed is the men’s residual bitterness of their war experiences and it is through this journey that they come to forgive and forget if not completely understand each other. Emma Powell materializes in flashbacks and the reading of letters to her husband that will never reach him. She would almost be useless except for the fact that it is nice to have a woman’s touch in the musical. This simple character exploration is elevated by a truly wonderful score of country western music. A small ensemble of two men and three women help to make the choral numbers sound big and rich and the soloists are all top notch. Particularly wonderful is young adolescent looking Thomas Wesley Stewart as Rhodes the cook. His song, “Lodore,” about the girls back home showed tremendous range and his effortless tenor voice was a thrill. The one black character, representing the new freedom from slavery is Somers (Bobby Daye), as part narrator, part moral compass, he finishes the show with a majestic ballad, “Memory Hill.” An ingeniously creative number lead by a character called Oramel Howland (Edmund Bagnell) who not only sings beautifully, but plays the violin while dancing with Celia Mei Rubin was the standout bit of staging by choreographer Liza Gennaro. Don Stephenson directed the show using the simplest of elements, making the 95 minute story as visually full of variety as the sound of the dynamic score.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Matthew Bourne's SWAN LAKE

You may have seen it on Broadway a decade ago or more than likely you’ve seen the DVD of the original London production, but Matthew Bourne’s version of SWAN LAKE is worth it right now at the New York City Center––a real thrill. The only bone to pick with this perfect work of art is that the music isn’t live. In fact there were members of the musician’s union handing out flyers outside to sort of protest the production. The truth is that this huge barn of a theater has a union price tag too huge for the dance companies. SWAN LAKE is certainly not the first to decide to go with canned music or non-union musicians. Paul Taylor, for example, claims the musician’s union has simply priced him out of using union musicians and that the union is unwilling to negotiate for something reasonable. So be it. Lucky for this SWAN LAKE that the star is the unique production itself and as soon as the curtain rises it hardly matters that the great Tchaikovsky score is recorded (and beautifully recorded it is). Matthew Bourne’s story telling takes over.

The entire first act is mainly focussed on story and there is more blocking than dancing––a kind of silent movie treatment. Then Act II kicks in and we are in that ultra famous section of music, so familiar to all whether or not you’ve ever seen a production of SWAN LAKE, with the ensemble of swans doing their variations of solos, smaller groups and full company dances. This Act II would all seem practically traditional if it weren’t for the main point of the production that the swans are not young ladies in white tutus. These swans are fierce, dangerous, masculine men. Their costume is no more than a pair of feathery knickers and their otherwise naked bodies painted white with a frightening jab of black across their foreheads. The movements are all inspired by the natural movements of actual swans and these studied attributes make these dancers intricately nuanced wild creatures. Leading the pack as The Swan, was Jonathan Ollivier the night I saw it (Richard Winsor dances The Swan on alternate performances). Mr. Ollivier is intense, long, tall and powerful. His concentration and discipline are amazing. His occasional stillness can be the most powerful of moments. The entire Act II is a sequence of the most thrilling ballet theatre anywhere and far more electric than any traditional staging I’ve seen.

The old story was one of a girl turned into a swan by a witch’s magic spell where she can only be human at night when she meets a lonely prince. Bourne’s telling is psychologically complicated by comparison. His prince is trapped in the struggles of being a royal celebrity. He is struggling with his sexuality as well and one fateful night, disguised as a commoner, he gets drunk and beat up at a bar and stumbles to “the lake” where he has every intention of committing suicide by drowning. Then The Swan appears to stop him. This is a bird, mind you, not a man. The Swan is no princess temporarily relieved of a spell––he is a big, beautiful, potentially dangerous bird. The Prince (danced by Simon Williams who has been with Bourne’s company since the original production) is mesmerized by this creature and somehow there is a connection with this animal. The Prince is temporarily freed by his communing with nature and he leaves the scene exhilarated.

After an intermission, ACT III is centered at a ball. Bourne makes it modern with paparazzi and fans watching the celebrity guests arrive, but sticks to tradition as the various exhibitions of dance are reviewed. In the middle of all this comes The Swan again, but although he arrives through the window, he is now a real man, still dangerous in leather. He seems to seduce the female guests, as well as the Queen, but in a hallucinatory moment, the Prince sees this stranger as his Swan and they dance together. It’s only an unfulfilled wish and the feeling of insanity that overtakes the Prince causes the Queen to send him away for treatment. After shock therapy, the prince is bed-ridden. He hallucinates again and the full flock of swans come to torment him and pick him apart, even as The Swan arrives to try to save him in the most exciting and dynamic dance of the production, capping the excitement of Act IV. This isn’t your grandmother’s SWAN LAKE.

It is difficult for me to go back to traditional stagings of SWAN LAKE with the dainty dancers in tutus and the storyless scenes filled with dance exhibitions and fairytale costumes. Lez Brotherston’s costumes are some sort of today meets mid-twentieth century and depict being raised as a royal prince as being more of a burden than a blessing. Brotherston’s sets operate like a Broadway musical, full of majesty and enough wit to truly aid in the telling of the story. This design is not just decor, it is the further expression of the Prince’s nightmare.

This is a unique, career defining work for Matthew Bourne. This should be seen live if at all possible, even though there is a beautiful record of the production available on DVD as well. New Yorkers should get down to the City Center right away––this SWAN LAKE is not to be missed.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Little Night Music

The replacement cast of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC sounded almost better than the original revival cast. After walking like a robot through two Ethel Merman vehicles on Broadway, Bernadette Peters returned to the Sondheim world where she flourishes. However, she has not given up her schtick––that same mugging schtick we’ve been seeing since SUNDAY IN THE PARK with her baby doll voice for comic effect, the drawing out of words, creating strange line readings, throwing out those presentational arms for the long notes, etc. Even if you’ve never seen her live, then you’ve seen the videos of SUNDAY IN THE PARK or INTO THE WOODS and you know exactly what I’m referring to. Bernadette Peters is an old fashioned Broadway ham. Furthermore, just like in the Merman shows, she stopped the comedy to “make it real” for the ballad. This time the ballad is the well known “Send in the Clowns.” Everyone’s waiting for it, everyone knows it. La Peters delivers. But, after seeing her turn on the watery eyes in the middle of shows where she otherwise seems disconnected, it only seems part of her routine. Still, the performance of the hit tune worked and she made her exit to some fine applause. Not as fine as the hardy applause awarded to Leigh Ann Larkin as Petra, who followed up “Send in the Clowns” with a tremendous performance of “The Miller’s Son.” Larkin was perfectly good all night, but then came “The Miller’s Son” and she exploded into another realm of performance that became the highlight of the production.

Not a highlight was Elaine Stritch as Madame Armfeldt. Most likely it is her age, but Ms. Stritch went up on her lines three times (the same number of times she says the night smiles). It was up to little Keaton Whittaker as Fredrika to keep Ms. Stritch going by feeding her hints to get back on track. Ms. Stritch is like a wisecracking waitress from a ‘50s diner whacking away at her scenes. She gets laughs, but at the expense of the refinement, class and character of the show. Yet, there is something heartwarming about an aging star appearing in a role late in the career, for we all feel that we have somehow lucked out to be able to see the Legend one more time. Armfeldt’s death is particularly moving, not because of the character, but because there is a feeling that we might be saying goodbye to Elaine Stritch where the stage is concerned.

Henrick continues to be played by Hunter Ryan Herdlicka with a fine voice and his true cello skills. He is adorable and comical and gives the production quite a bit of charm. Fredrik is now played perfectly by Stephen R. Buntrock, who works beautifully with Ms. Peters. All of the supporting players meet or exceed expectations except for the bazaar performance of Ramona Mallory as Anne. Her line readings rise and fall in unnatural hills and valleys. She is nothing less than weird. Director Trevor Nunn needs to shake her and command her to become an actual person.

I was disappointed to hear that this revival would reduce the orchestration to eight pieces, but Jason Carr’s small orchestration is beautiful and I never thought I was getting less in the music department. David Farley’s set and costume designs are simple with an elaborate unit set that changes just enough to redefine spaces. There was an elegance in the simplicity. For all my little complaints this production was an overall joy. Another joy is the fact that the past ten years on Broadway have been dominated by revivals of Sondheim shows. One after the other we’re getting a chance to see top grade productions of all of them. For now we get A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at least until January.

Frog Kiss

This adaptation of the fairy tale THE FROG PRINCE took a bawdy direction, making it a bit of a confusing piece of musical theatre. The jokes tend to be too “adult” for a children’s audience and yet anyone in Western culture would assume they should take their kids to a “Frog Prince” musical. Eric Schorr needs to think about his book with regards to exactly who his audience might be. It isn’t adult enough for adults and it’s too adult for children below middle school. The score by Charles Leipart is fun, but it isn’t unified in style, starting out as a swing score with “Manhattan Transfer” vocals and then engaging in the other styles found at a ballroom competition. If “Ballroom” is the style, then it doesn’t hold together the kooky book. The key elements of the shallow children’s story are in tact and it is the duty of the authors to flesh out the limited characters into three dimensional people and to, perhaps, give reason to the random plot points of the simple tale. This challenge was only half met. The original story teaches the reader to keep a promise. The promise is that the princess must marry the frog. There is a slight ick factor with regards to wedding night issues––an issue discussed among the characters. In the original story a witch casts a spell on a prince, turning him into a frog. The frog insists that he is a prince, but the humans of the story don’t believe him. Finally, after making a deal for the Princess to let him live in the palace and live like the prince he is, the Princess, disgusted by the fact that the frog kisses her, throws the frog against a wall which breaks the spell. Poof! Now he’s a human prince again. In FROG KISS we never get the Witch/Prince back story and so we believe that the frog is just a frog. This only adds to the bestiality subtext.

On the other hand, some of the fleshing out of the story is interesting, such as the Princess going through the various methods of training the Frog to be more human. In the process she finds she is falling in love with the Frog just as he is. Good message, but is she really going to marry a frog? Lucky for all of us the unexplained magic of throwing the Frog against the wall works and he becomes human before the wedding. Another twist is added when Claus (Theis Weckesser), the male character of the second couple, has always longed to “come out” as the frog he truly is inside. A little toss against the wall and his dream comes true, humiliating his wife Hortense (Manna Nichols) in the process. This is supposed to be funny, but it’s a little wacky and prolongs the stretched out material too far without good reason. Also, Claus’ coming out is definitely worked in as a gay story parallel––yet another plot point that doesn’t make sense in a children’s story. Not that this musical, by nature of its source material, has to be for children, but the assumption is naturally there. If the show is really for adults, then it isn’t sophisticated enough. Really, it should find the balance of the best Disney classic films where the humor and treatment of the them registers with adults and isn’t inappropriate for the kids. This is what is meant by “family” musical.

FROG PRINCE was a presentation of the New York Musical Theatre Festival and was nicely produced. The cast was wonderful, with Hanley Smith as a delightful Princess Clementine and the outstanding Curtis Holbrook as the Frog. Holbrook is formerly WEST SIDE STORY’S “Action” and his dancing skill was put to great use. He created an endearing character, both physically and vocally. His presence on stage was so dynamic that it was difficult to take your eyes off him, even when surrounded by the entire cast.

A superb band of six was lead by Daryl Waters. Orchestrations were by Daryl Waters and made the show sparkle. Lorna Ventura choreographed some spirited numbers and used the great talents of Curtis Holbrook to the fullest. Kenneth L. Roberson directed, pulling all the elements together and giving the disjointed material as cohesive a production as could be possible. This was an enjoyable entertainment to sit through, but it is a curiosity and needs a serious rethinking to work the idea into a show that will make sense as family entertainment and as a unified work.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Life in the Theatre

Without fanfare or set up, Patrick Stewart walks onto the stage of the Schonebeld Theatre and is greeted with great applause, for he is that well known actor of theatre, film and Star Trek. One moment later T.R. Knight appears and the applause grows again, for he is a featured player on TV’s GREY’S ANATOMY, though he is a creature of the theatre himself. They are on a backstage theatre set––actors. David Mamet’s rhythmic writing takes off, though he’s kept his usual profanity to a record low. What follows are snippets of just what the title suggests. There are dressing room scenes, snatches of performances where invertiblely something goes wrong and must be covered, rehearsals, scenes of social camaraderie and a discovery of character. The youth of Mr. Knight and the age of the amazingly fit Mr. Stewart make for great contrasts. Mamet explores what it is like for the young actor verses the aging actor––the insecurities of both for different reasons, the green verses the seasoned, the methodical verses the impatient, the social aspect and the loneliness. The scenes are not all connected, the timeframe is not known, these actors seem to be playing together in a great variety of productions––perhaps as part of a repertory company. This is simply an exploration and in the mind of David Mamet it is mostly funny––the seriousness of life only bleeding in occasionally. What I would have loved was if one of those few serious moments were strong enough to really move me, but the time was not taken to do so. David Mamet can’t manage that quality the way Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman used to, but then maybe he simply didn’t care to. As it is, the show is worth it. It would be a delight even without Mr. Stewart and Mr. Knight, but those two wonderful people are in it and all the more reason to run out and buy a ticket. Neil Pepe directed the show with a swift pace on Santo Loquasto’s intriguing backstage set. Laura Bauer has designed some whimsical costumes that are made for amazing quick changes and Kenneth Posner’s light design caught the ambiance of backstage life as well as revealing a wonderful look of a darkened theatre auditorium during performance scenes. All of it is a valentine to the life of the actor.