Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Fiorello! at The East 13th Street Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Fiorello! at The East 13th Street Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Fiorello!
Book by Jerome Weidman & George Abbott
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Bob Moss
Choreography by Michael Callahan
Costume Design by David Murin
Scenic Design by Carl Sprague
Music Direction by Evan Zavada
The East 13th Street Theater
136 East 13th Street
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 9/24/16

Fiorello! is a musical based on the life of Fiorello H. LaGuardia (the 99th Mayor of the City of New York who served from 1934 to 1945), a reform Republican who took on the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine. It covers the period of his life from the time he was a successful attorney in Greenwich Village (1915) to his election as Mayor (1933). Not all the facts of his life represented in this musical are accurate and some were changed for dramatic effect. Fiorello! opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre on November 23, 1959, moved to The Broadway Theatre on May 9, 1961, and closed on October 28, 1961 after 795 performances. The show won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Tom Bosley) and Best Direction of a Musical (George Abbott). It also won the 1960 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A brief revival was launched on June 13, 1962 at the New York City Center closing on June 24, 1962 after only 16 performances. A staged concert production of Fiorello! was performed at the first New York City Center's Encores! concert series in February 1994, and then again in January 2013 to celebrate the 20th season of the series. The Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG) launched this new production of Fiorello! at the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in June & July 2016. It is that production that has transferred to The East 13th Street Theater. 

Fiorello H. LaGuardia apparently blamed his father's death on "exploiters" and "profiteers" who sold spoiled food to soldiers during the Spanish-American War. As an attorney, he was committed to helping the underprivileged (most of the time pro bono) including women who were striking against the Nifty Shirtwaist Factory for "a living wage." Some of those women were arrested by corrupt police officers for loitering and for soliciting. The ambitious future Mayor saw representing them as an opportunity to build his reputation as a man of the people. It didn't hurt that he was half-Italian and half-Jewish (although Episcopalian) given the make-up of his Congressional District, which had historically been dominated by the Democrats and the Tammy Hall political machine. But LaGuardia organized the Jewish and Italian communities into their own political clubs and became a powerful political force in his own right. Morris, his assistant, would often say LaGuardia would represent anyone in need. He said, "I've yet to see the meek inherit the earth, but we inherit them." When challenged by Jews that he spoke too much about his Italian heritage and almost never regarding his Jewish heritage, LaGuardia responded, "If a man is only half-Jewish, it isn't enough to brag about." A flippant remark no doubt but humorous enough to endear himself to the Jews in his district. He won his congressional seat, served in the Army (Major LaGuardia), married Thea (of Italian Catholic background), ran for Mayor and lost, married Marie and got elected Mayor on a Fusion Ticket. The one scene that brought me to tears was when Fiorello fired his assistant Marie and then asked her to marry him. Marie had remained single refusing to put down the torch she carried for him. When the oblivious Fiorello proposed, he said, "I think you can learn to love me." to which she responded, "I think I can. I've been practicing for 15 years."  

The orchestra consisted of two keyboards and a violin. This fact did not in any way detract from the success of the production. In fact, Evan Zavada, the music director, performs what seems like magic playing the score in all its richness without ever dropping a note. He is joined by Robert Frost on the second keyboard and by the talented Alev Gokce Erem on violin. David Murin deserves credit for the period costumes and Michael Callahan's choreography was imbued with the spirit of the original 1959 Broadway production. Carl Sprague did wonders with the set having newspaper headlines laminated onto the stage floor (to be highlighted when relevant) and bringing human size skyscrapers on the stage to have the audience feel as if they were in New York City. Of course, the audience was not only in Manhattan surrounded by those very skyscrapers but they were also in the East Village, where Fiorello LaGuardia had his law office and started his political career. It is a minor point that some of the skyscrapers hadn't been built at the time the play was set and that the American flags used had 50 stars on them even though some of the states had not at that point been admitted to the Union. Nevertheless, I was very impressed with how efficiently the set was used to illustrate different settings.  

Many of the actors in this production are very young. However, the problem with some cast members was not their youth but with how they performed, the quality of their vocal instruments, and most noticeably, the way some of the actors absolutely butchered the accents they were trying to imitate - and when I say butcher, I mean it! I would sometimes cringe in pain whenever some of the actors opened their mouths to speak. I would actually have preferred listening to fingernails being scraped against a chalkboard. The audience was subjected to a non-stop roller-coaster ride of unpleasant sounds. The biggest offender was Rylan Morsbach, who played Ben Marino, the backroom Republican Party boss who spent his time in "smoke-filled rooms" playing poker and being a power broker. He absolutely ruined one of my favorite songs, Little Tin Box, by using four different failed accents - each worse than the other ("It mounted up Your Honor bit by bit." to which the boys responded, "UP YOUR HONOR BIT BY BIT!"). The same crime was committed by Rebecca Brudner, Fiorello's first wife, who was supposed to be speaking with an Italian accent. I am partly of Italian descent and I can say with certainty her Italian accent was so mangled it was completely unrecognizable to me. Dan Cassin, who played Floyd, the corrupt cop, had the same problem but was marginally more tolerable to listen to. 

Austin Scott Lombardi, a short, thin Italian was totally miscast as Fiorello ("fiorello" in Italian means "little flower" which accounts for his nickname The Little Flower). First, he doesn't physically look anything like LaGuardia. Second, he couldn't hit many of his notes without visibly gasping for a second breath. Third, while his character was supposedly loved for taking legal cases without demanding payment, he didn't come across as a likable, charismatic guy. His character appeared more self-absorbed, conceited, and cocky than the real Fiorello LaGuardia was reported to be. If I were bringing Fiorello! to an Off-Broadway Theater with the hope of moving it to Broadway, I would have re-cast a few of the key roles and would have made certain my lead had the talent, ability and stage presence to carry the show. Instead, I will be surprised if this production of Fiorello! outlives its expected run at this theater. 

That having been said, I really did enjoy this production of Fiorello!. First, there are the marvelous songs that haven't been heard outside of High School or Community Theater for many years. I particularly enjoyed "Politics & Poker," "Gentleman Jimmy," "Home Again," "On The Side Of The Angels," "I Love A Cop," and "When Did I Fall In Love." You also might remember "The Name's LaGuardia" (L-A-G-U-A-R-D-I-A). There are also some excellent performances in the production that are worth seeing. Matt McLean, who played Morris is not only very funny (especially his constant fighting with his wife about what time he will be home for dinner) but successfully exhibits a whole range of emotions which showcase his acting abilities. Chelsea Cree Groen as Dora, the gal who loves a cop, has a marvelous voice and a very charismatic stage presence. You take note when she is in a scene. Dan Cassin, the corrupt police officer (with an opinion on whether a molar would dissolve overnight if left in a glass of Moxie), has a strong voice and fine acting skills. Michael Sullivan is similarly powerful as Neil, another of LaGuardia's inner-circle employees who is sent on a mission to prevent thugs from pulling a particular fire alarm. It will make sense when you see the play. Katie Birenboim does a fine job as Marie, LaGuardia's second wife, a long-suffering, patient and loyal ally. My final favorite actor was Drew Carr, who played Chadwick and one of the backroom party regulars who voted to give the Republican Nomination for Congress from the 14th C.D. to Fiorello H. LaGuardia. Although most of the supporting cast members were quite proficient, Mr. Carr really caught my eye as a standout performer with extraordinary talent.

It is not every day, every year or even every decade you get to catch a full-scale production of Fiorello! so I highly recommend you take this opportunity to see it. Sure, it's far from perfect but you will still have a very good time and be glad you went. The only thing missing, which would have added to everyone's enjoyment, was that Moxie, one of the first mass-produced soft drinks in the United States mentioned in the production, was not on sale at concessions. Moxie is a carbonated beverage (officially recognized by the State of Maine) flavored with gentian root extract originally patented in 1876 as Moxie Nerve Food and now on sale in cans and bottles as Moxie Original Elixir (also available in diet). Moxie costs about a dollar a can retail so if there was any contractual prohibition against selling it, given the high ticket price, the producers could have given a can to every attendee as a parting gift. Well, that's what I would have done.

Fiorello! runs through Friday, October 7, 2016. Tier A Premium Tickets (2nd & 3rd Rows) cost $99.00 ($103.46 with service charge). Tier A Tickets cost $79.00 ($82.76 with service charge). Tier B (Side Stage Seats) Tickets cost $59.00 ($62.06 with service charge). For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.FiorelloNYC.com 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Ginger Minj: The Album Premiere at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Ginger Minj: The Album Premiere at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was 
written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of 
the online edition of Applause! Applause!


Ginger Minj: The Album Premiere
Written & Performed by Joshua Eads-Brown
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 9/22/16  

Ginger Minj (Joshua Eads-Brown) is back in New York City introducing us to her first album entitled Sweet T, which is set to be released on October 21, 2016. She basically sang five songs from the album with backup video, and from what I heard, I would highly recommend you purchase it. Ginger Minj has a strong and powerful voice. She sings perfectly in tune and each of the songs is accompanied with some personal story from her life, even the covers. She gave this show her all. When speaking of the emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, she got highly personal and honestly spoke about her efforts over the past two years to reconcile with her dad after he reached out to her during the 7th season of RuPaul's Drag Race saying he was proud of her and wanted to start over. When she spoke of her grandfather Roy, the man who raised her and showed her love, she broke down in tears, not just in remembrance of a great, generous, and selfless man, but also because 400 of her fans showed up in Leesburg, Florida with flowers in hand to attend his funeral and pay their respects. 

Appearing in the 7th season of RuPaul's Drag Race, Ginger Minj introduced herself as an "overweight, asthmatic, chain-smoking, cross-dresser from Orlando." Nothing much has changed nor would I want it to. However, Ms. Minj should seriously consider giving up the smokes especially since she is asthmatic. She has worked at Pulse, Hamburger Mary's and Parliament House in Orlando, Ultra Lounge in Cocoa Village, and as an actor in Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show on International Drive. Ginger Minj has long reigned as The Comedy Queen Of The South, with pageant titles including Miss Gay United States 2013 and Miss National Comedy Queen 2012. Before becoming Ginger Minj, Joshua Eads-Brown was a child actor starring in a series of Christian movies and books on tape, and even won a Best Actor Award for the State of Florida in 2002.

As a child, Ginger said the shy boy underneath named Joshua knew he was different but didn't know how or why. He became a fan of Divine after his grandparents rented Pink Flamingos for him, which he watched in private under a blanket in their Florida Room. As he became obsessed with That Beautiful Divine Entity (Creature), his father tried to make a man out of him by encouraging him to play football. He went along, starting off as "a tight end" and ending up "a wide receiver." As time went by, he preferred hanging out with freaks since it made him look normal by comparison. Eventually, his grandfather asked him if he was "a gay" to which he answered that he has tried to like girls but just couldn't. His grandfather accepted him and said, "if anyone comes at you, let me know and I'll have your back." That is truly an example of unconditional love. 

Ginger Minj has dedicated this show to her fans. The Sweet T album, which is about Truth, shares with the listener insights into who Joshua and Ginger really are and what they have been through. Sure there are jokes told in her interactions with audience members such as, "Don't get too close - you might get cockeyed!"; "You look like a picnic ready to be had!"; and "You look like a one-man living pride parade!" but most of the show is about revelation told in chapters (Chapter 1 - Dream A Little Dream; Chapter 2 - You Think You're A Man; Chapter 3 - Father's Song; Chapter 4 -  Losing My Religion; and Chapter 5 - Leave It All Behind). In the Losing My Religion segment, Ginger tells the audience, "I can't save your soul but I can get you on your knees screaming for Jesus!" In the Leave It All Behind segment, she warns "we will never reach our full potential until we let go of things that hold us back." In the end, Ginger Minj reveals all by removing her make-up and transitioning back into Joshua before singing her last song.

This show did not have the politically incorrect edge her last show had nor was it well-scripted or directed. It appeared at times as if she was making up what to do next as she went along and if you are not a fan of hers from RuPaul's Drag Race, there were segments of the show, such as the Question & Answer period, that you may not find interesting. The stripping down would have been more dramatic and effective if Ginger sang Charles Aznavour's What Makes A Man A Man instead of simply taking questions. Ginger Minj certainly put it all out there (she didn't "tuck" because she was wearing a long gown) and shared a piece of her soul with the audience. She showed love and received it in return. 

Ginger Minj told us, "Don't Listen To Darkness. Dream Your Own Way!" and reminded everyone that "If men can look this good (referring to herself in drag), then there's no excuse for ugly women!" Minj is a very entertaining performer who I recommend you see. For more information about Ginger Minj, visit http://gingerminj.com 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Gypsy at The Gallery Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Gypsy at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Gypsy
Director: Mark Harborth
Costume Designer: Joey Haws
Choreographer: Jerry Mittelhauser
Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
The Gallery Players 
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 9/18/16

Gypsy is loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist, and focuses on her mother Rose, and her obsession to raise her two daughters to perform on stage. The character of Louise is based on Lee, and the character of June is based on Lee's sister, the actress June Havoc. The original Broadway production, in which Ethel Merman played Rose, opened on May 21, 1959 at The Broadway Theatre, transferred to the Imperial Theatre, and closed on March 25, 1961 after 702 performances and two previews. The original production received eight Tony Award nominations but failed to win any. Gypsy was revived in 1974 opening at the Winter Garden Theatre on September 23, 1974 and closing on January 4, 1975 after 120 performances and four previews. Angela Lansbury, who played Rose, won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. A 1989 Broadway revival opened on November 16, 1989 at the St. James Theatre, and then moved to the Marquis Theatre on April 18, 1991 closing on July 28, 1991 after 476 performances and 23 previews. This production won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical and Tyne Daly, who played Rose, won the Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. A new Broadway revival began previews on March 31, 2003 and opened on May 1, 2003 at the Shubert Theatre. Bernadette Peters played Rose and the show failed to win any Tony Awards. It closed on May 30, 2004 after 451 performances and 33 previews. The most recent Broadway revival was in 2008. Gypsy opened at the St. James Theatre on March 27, 2008 with Patti Lupone as Rose, Boyd Gaines as Herbie, and Laura Benanti as Louise. All three won Tony Awards for their performances. The show closed on January 11, 2009, having played for 332 performances and 27 previews. On the eve before the final curtain call, Ms. Lupone made news when she literally stopped the show in the middle of the song "Rose's Turn," to scold a patron for taking illegal photographs during the performance.

The current production of Gypsy at The Gallery Players is huge. In fact, it contains 31 actors, the largest number of performers to have appeared on stage in any show they have produced over the past 50 years. All of the actors in this production are excellent in their respective roles. There are no weak links and everyone deserves kudos for their fine performances. Of course, I have my favorites; actors who I felt went above and beyond the call of duty to embody their character and entertain the audience. First on the list is the extremely talented and charismatic Jolie Rose Wasserman, who played Baby June. She is a remarkable actress and was a delight to see perform. Dave Konig excelled as the emotionally distraught, dominated Herbie, Rose's long-suffering beau. Lorinne Lampert played Tessie Tura, one of the strippers, in a manner which enabled the audience to empathize with her life and plight. Elizabeth Nestlerode was extraordinary bringing to life Louise, the shy, neglected sister who blossomed into Gypsy Rose Lee, the self-confident stripper who was finally able to stand up to her mother and make her own choices as to which direction her life was going to take. While many in the audience liked Adam Fontana (Tulsa) as the "best of the boys" based primarily on his solo dance number, I was more impressed with James David Dirck (Yonkers), who projected a certain charisma and stage presence that made it clear to me he has a promising future in the theater. Finally, I need to comment on Victoria Bundonis, who played Rose in this production. Ms. Bundonis played the role more in the style of Ethel Merman than Bernadette Peters, blindly pushing her girls to be stars whatever their talent level might be. She paraded on stage with a set of brass balls and commanded people's attention. A flaw in the book is that she never really questions her motivations until the very end of the play and seems not to care how many people she pushed out of her life fully deceiving herself into thinking that they left her. The big negative is that Victoria Bundonis doesn't always sing on tune and has trouble hitting the higher notes. As a regular audience member, you may not be too distracted by this because, during any one performance, it is barely noticeable to the untrained ear.

To be clear, Rose is not a sympathetic character. When her father failed to loan her $88.00, she stole the gold plaque he received for 50 years of service to the railroad and pawned it. She constantly talked and once when she told Mr. Weber not to interrupt her in the middle of a sentence, he responded, "You are always in the middle of a sentence!". Rose also forced her girls and boys to lie about their ages ("as long as you're in this act, no one is over 10"), sleep in the same room, go without pay and mostly eat Chinese take-out food. When she would get in trouble with rent she owed or having too many people in one small apartment, she would fake sexual assault in order to buy herself some time. The career that Rose was unable to achieve for herself is the one she tried to force upon her daughters, first focusing on June (who ultimately married Tulsa and went off on her own) and then on the less talented Louise. She told her grandfather, "Anyone who stays home is dead!". Herbie viewed her as "a pioneer woman without a frontier." Rose kept putting off accepting Herbie's marriage proposals, saying, "After three husbands, it takes a lot of butter to get you back into the frying pan." 

The depression and the talkies were ruining Vaudeville so it was only a matter of time before their bookings started to dry up. Rose tried mounting many shows including Baby June & Her Newsboys, Dainty June & Her Farmboys (featuring Caroline the Cow), and Madame Rose's Toreadorables (many of which came to her in dreams). When Rose prevented June from taking advantage of an offer to pay for one-year's acting lessons to make her a legitimate actress, their relationship soured and they became irreparably estranged, eventually leading to June leaving. With Louise now the lead star of a new show entitled Rose Louise & Her Hollywood Blondes, Herbie got them booked as a legitimate act "that's supposed to keep the cops out" of a Burlesque House in Wichita, Kansas appropriately named "The Bottom." Desperately needing the money, Rose finally agreed to the two-week run and Louise started making extra money sewing costumes for the girls. A "star spot" opened up and Rose convinced Louise to take it. At least she would be a star somewhere. Her grandfather once said they ran around the country like gypsies so she was to be announced as Gypsy Rose Louise, which in the play the announcer misstated as Gypsy Rose Lee, which stuck. Over time, she became a headliner at Minsky's and other Burlesque locations, eventually becoming Queen of the Burlesque. Her signature song, which she sang as a child remained "Let Me Entertain You." One of her funnier lines was to tell the audience, "My mother used to say 'make them beg for more and then don't give it to them' but I am not my mother, so if you beg for more, I'll give it to you!"

Whether you have seen a production of Gypsy or not, I guarantee you will enjoy this show, which received a standing ovation from the sold-out audience. Popular songs from the musical you may recognize include Some People, Small World, Everything's Coming Up Roses, Together Wherever We Go, Let Me Entertain You, and Rose's Turn. There is also a wonderful scene in which a strobe light is used to indicate the passage of time. It is not to be missed!

Tickets cost $25.00 for adults and $20.00 for Seniors & Children. Gypsy plays through October 9, 2016 at The Gallery Players (Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m.; and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m.). To purchase tickets, call Ovationtix at 212-352-3101 or visit their website at http://galleryplayers.com/   

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Narrows Community Theater's production of The Addams Family at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Narrows Community Theater's production of The Addams Family at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Addams Family
Summer Youth Production
Directed by Jill Bolstridge
Choreographed by Ashley Hacker
Costumes Designed by Rita Donohue
Music Director: Ray Bailey
Music & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice
Based on Characters Created by Charles Addams
Fort Hamiton Army Base Theater
101st Street & Fort Hamilton Parkway
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY 11209
Reviewed 9/17/16  

After a tryout in Chicago, The Addams Family opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on March 8, 2010, with an official opening on April 8, 2010. The show is based on characters created by Charles Addams in his single-panel cartoons, which depict a ghoulish American family with an affinity for all things macabre. The musical is the first stage show based on the cartoons rather than the television and film characters. The set has been described as "an off-beat take on 19th Century Gothic." In addition to the well-known familiar characters of Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Fester, Grandma, Lurch and Cousin Itt, the musical introduces the new roles of Mal, Alice, and Lucas Beineke, who are described as "straight arrow Midwesterners" from Ohio. The ensemble consists of a group of Addams Family ancestors, each from a different time period, who have been woken and enlisted to help Fester bring Wednesday and Lucas together so love can triumph over all adversity. Ironically, Fester is in love with the moon. He finds this attraction to be more practical and less troublesome. As he says, "When it comes to love, distance is our friend. We never fight and every meeting is a happy reunion." The Broadway production closed on December 31, 2011, after 35 previews and 722 performances.


Wednesday is growing into a young lady and is discovering different interests that are taking her in new directions. She has met Lucas Beineke, who has asked her to marry him. She has invited Lucas and his parents over for a cozy dinner to make sure the two families can get along. If all goes well, she plans to announce their wedding plans. She has confided in her father forcing him to lie to Morticia for the first time. Perceiving this, their love life is no longer as intense and spontaneous as it used to be. Wednesday is also learning that Lucas is not as crazy and impulsive as she is. He confesses to her, "I can be impulsive. I just have to think about it first." When Lucas refuses to run away with her, she tells Gomez, "I hate him!". Gomez wisely retorts, "It's a start. Something you can build on." He goes on to explain that "life is full of contradictions" and that "in every heaven, you'll find some hell." Wednesday begs her mom to act normal for just this one night. Morticia responds by explaining that "normality is an illusion; what's normal for the spider is a calamity for the fly."

Alice and Mal Beineke arrive with their son Lucas at The Addams Family Mansion located somewhere in Central Park. Wednesday wears a bright yellow dress (instead of her usual black) for the occasion. (This shocks her father, who says "What happened? You look like a crime scene!"). Mal is already in a bad mood. He explains, "The guy who patted me down at the airport slipped me his phone number. I don't think I can stand any more surprises." In pre-dinner conversation, Gomez reveals to Mal he collects instruments of torture ("The history of the world told in agony and persuasion"). Morticia tells Alice she would leave Gomez if he ever lied to her. Pugsley complains to Grandma he fears he is losing his sister Wednesday. Grandma is not at all comforting and says, "That's life kid. You'll lose the ones you love." Pugsley then steals one of her potions that brings out the dark side in a person. He is hoping to give it to Wednesday so her "true self" will turn off Lucas but through a mix-up, Alice drinks the potion and all hell breaks lose during the post-dinner game of Full Disclosure (loosely based on The Spanish Inquisition). I won't say how it all turns out but when Gomez tries to win back Morticia's love, he's asked, "Do you really think you can win her back with a joke." to which he responds, "It's the last thing I try before the chloroform."

This Summer Youth Production of Narrows Community Theater is as professionally staged and acted as any traditionally cast musical might be. The set is magnificent. I was immediately impressed with it. The costumes were spot on. The presence of all the main Addams Family characters on stage at the very beginning of the play set the stage for what we were about to see. Every member of  the "dead ensemble" exhibited their well-practiced choreography and significantly added to the atmosphere of making the audience believe they were at an Addams Family Reunion, where Addams Family Members - dead, alive and undecided, came to gather. (We learn that when you're an Addams, you really have to stir the pot. You do what Addams' do, or die!) The moon dancers who backed up Fester in his main song were not very coordinated and could use a few more hours of practice in order to get the routine right.

Caitlyn Schmidt was very strong in the lead role of Wednesday. Ms. Schmidt has an excellent vocal instrument and captured the attention of the audience whenever she was on stage. Brandon Paunetto was appropriately meek as Lucas Beineke (Wednesday asked, "How long have you been standing in the shadows?" to which he responded, "My whole life.") For some inexplicable reason caused by the mental illness known as romantic love, Lucas loves Wednesday and in one of the stupidest decisions of his young life invites Wednesday to use a crossbow, and while blindfolded, to try to shoot an apple off the top of his head. When asked by Wednesday how he would feel if she missed and killed him, his response was, "at least you will be the last thing I see." Obviously, he is totally mad and absolutely perfect to marry into the Addams family. Emma Doherty was cast as Pugsley, Wednesday's younger brother, and I must say I was extremely impressed with her acting abilities. Not only was she believable playing a boy but she excelled in the role. She played the part with great emotional depth. On the one hand, we saw a boy who when asked what he was collecting funds for, responded, "Just put money in the can and nobody gets hurt" and on the other hand, we saw a sensitive young man stealing "acrimonium" from his grandma because he was afraid of losing his playmate and sister because she was starting to discover her sexuality and to have other interests. 

It took a short period of adjustment to get used to Adam Elsayed playing Gomez, and Laura Downey as his wife Morticia. However, both proved themselves to be more than worthy to have been cast in these roles. They are both strong actors with good voices. This was not necessarily the case with Steven Fazzolari, who played Uncle Fester, Gomez's brother. Mr. Fazzolari nailed the part in terms of being eccentric but he couldn't easily hit some of the higher notes. One of the audience members told me she thought that was as it should be because you wouldn't expect Fester to be able to sing that well. Despite everything, I enjoyed watching him perform on stage. Emily Downey did a fine job as Grandma (who may or may not be related to anyone in the house), and Iravan Bhattacharyya milked every laugh he could playing Lurch in platform shoes. Abigail Doherty was unseen and  unheard fully covered in her Cousin Itt costume. I really liked Yianni Vasilounis as Mal. He completely embodied the part, both when he played the stuck-up husband and when he transitioned into his old self. (Even if he didn't play the most likeable character, at least he was able to boast about the TSA agent who slipped him his number after patting him down.) This might explain why his wife Alice, played by Leigh Dillon was so upset their marriage had lost its passion. Ms. Dillon really nailed the part of Alice and had a number of strong scenes. Her presence also set up one of the funnier lines in the play. In a tribute to Ralph Kramden's catchphrase from The Honeymooners, Fester (wearing a jet pack) is asked where he was going, and Fester responds "to the moon, Alice!".

The Summer Youth Production of The Addams Family is extremely well-done and very entertaining. It features a live orchestra and keeps your full attention throughout the entire show. These young actors are not amateurs in the sense that I found their performance levels to be top-notch. If they are in school and still learning, I must say they are all well on their way to a professional career in the theater. Whether you have seen The Addams Family musical before or not, I absolutely guarantee you will enjoy this production. In my book, it's a must see! 

You can catch The Addams Family on Friday, September 23, 2016 at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday, September 24, 2016 at 8:00 p.m.; or Sunday, September 25, 2016 at 2:00 p.m.. Those shows will be at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater (bring photo identification). Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased at: http://narrowscommunitytheater.com/buy-tickets/ 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Billie Roe's Monopoly: Singing The Lives From Baltic Avenue To Boardwalk at The Metropolitan Room by Kathy Towson

This review of Billie Roe's Monopoly: Singing The Lives From Baltic Avenue To Boardwalk at The Metropolitan Room was written by Kathy Towson and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Monopoly: Singing The Lives From Baltic Avenue To Boardwalk
Written & Performed by Billie Roe
Directed by Mark Nadler
Musical Director: Steven Ray Watkins
Musical Arrangements by Steven Ray Watkins & Mark Nadler
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 9/9/16  

Before I ever got to the performance, I was intrigued by the subject and was very curious about how the Monopoly game would be "played" in this show. I sat down to a thoughtful and professional Reviewer's Worksheet. Billie Roe made a timely entrance at 7:05 p.m. and was  immediately greeted by thunderous applause from friends and/or fans who have known about this multi-award-winning performer and her equally much-awarded accompanist, Steven Ray Watkins and director, Mark Nadler.


We are then given the charming background story of the show's theme, about how she and her family would always play Monopoly at their grandparents' summer camp, culminating in the final night's exhibition game, specifically the very important one in 1963 where Ms. Roe had been determined to beat her siblings. Ms. Roe tells us that through the game she learned the values of communication, negotiation and most importantly - financial responsibility, which she very humorously explained "comes in handy since I work in 'affordable housing'" and, more specifically, how to bankrupt your opponents (also known as, "How to run for President").

She builds a story line between the songs, leading us around the Monopoly board of real estate, showing how the colors correspond to the differences in social status. She exercises her acting chops by playing different characters representing various classes: the upper crust Mrs. Bibbs, the middle-class protester Rose, the lower class Sophie Gernstein, and Homeless Woman. These story lines serve as segues between the songs and, for the most part, make for smooth transitions but in a few places, such as from the first to the second song, there were some awkward pauses between tunes. Additionally, when she tried to quickly switch between Mrs. Bibbs and Homeless Woman during a Community Chest segment, or portray a Hipster who was supposed to be a male character during a Marvin Gardens segment, the portrayals were often not audible and fell short. However, I do appreciate all the stories and when weaved together as a whole, they make some very important political and social statements.

I have to admit I am not a fan of "talked" songs such as was applied to Yellow Beach Umbrella and when Ms. Roe tried a hip-hop version of Hurry! It's Lovely Up Here as Mrs. Bibbs trying to "pull in the younger constituents," it proved to be vocally challenging. I did thoroughly enjoy her duet with her very talented accompanist, Steven Ray Watkins, of Easy Money, her rousing rendition of More Money, and the very poignant moments of the Homeless Woman's Kiss Me, Sophie's September Song and Rose's Dance With My Father, which better suited her vocal range and quality. I also enjoyed her encore number Where The Streets Have No Name, which topped off the evening with a touching, emotional finish.

As a whole, although I found the theme somewhat interesting, I felt the dialogue portion of  the evening could have been shortened since it often lacked the ability to hold my attention. Ms. Roe has an impressive voice when she chooses the more straight-forward, non-modernized music, and, if she is trying to showcase her acting abilities, such is already very evident in her interpretation of the songs. I hope she will edit out some of the dialogue in favor of an additional song or two.

I applaud Ms. Roe for a very unique and clever idea.

Applause! Applause! Review of Honor Molloy's Crackskull Row at The Workshop Theater (Main Stage) by Kathy Towson

This review of Honor Molloy's Crackskull Row at The Workshop Theater (Main Stage) was written by Kathy Towson and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Crackskull Row
Written by Honor Molloy
Directed by Kira Simring
The Workshop Theater (Main Stage)
312 West 36th Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 9/8/16  

One sits down to a very impressive set portraying a home that has seen better days but still appears to be warm and inviting with very pleasant Irish music playing.  We will come to discover the lives of those within have been anything but warm and inviting. The title of the show refers to the name of the Dublin street where the play is set in 1999. 


I am someone who prefers a clear, linear storyline but to watch Crackskull Row, you must suspend wanting immediate gratification or clarity; just go along for the ride and know "all will be revealed in time" since this is anything but linear, and does indeed, as advertised "meld reality and myth." It also takes a scene or two (not having a trained ear for Irish English) to fully understand the language. Consequently, I found  the dialogue of the first few scenes very confusing and a little too "out of this world" to enjoy what was happening. Perhaps this was to be expected since Crackskull Row is an entry in Origin Theatre's 2016 1st Irish Theatre Festival. I also found it hard to understand who the characters (Masher Moorigan, played by Terry Donnelly, and Dolly, played by Gina Costigan) actually were or what was going on. However, some very clever writing in those scenes did catch my attention such as "White Sugar is the White Devil." 

As we progress into the scene where the character of present day Rasher Moorigan, the son, played by Colin Lane, has a monologue with the audience and takes us back in time, a very negative family dynamic is revealed and the play then becomes a very gripping story. There is a powerfully unsettling scene between young Rasher, played by John Charles McLaughlin and Masher, the mother, during which incest is revealed. I applaud the director, Kira Simring, for her hand in staging the action in such a merely suggestive, and yet, simultaneously, very disturbing manner. It is evident throughout the show why Ms. Simring is an award-winning director. It is also in this scene that I felt Honor Molloy's haunting pen, with the line, "Mother, you are my dearest wish." Additional memorable dialogue is delivered by John Charles McLaughlin, who deftly changes characters into the ESB Electric Boy, where he explains, "I am here to fix the future. I can't fix the past" - the main takeaway message that resonated with me long after the end of the show.

We are taken on a familiar journey of hope and despair when, with the son's encouragement, the mother vows to stop being a prostitute, to get a good job, and to leave her abusive husband for a real home, only to let fear hold her back, which would eventually result in her institutionalization. A very good warning from Ms. Molloy to anyone listening. Although the synopsis of the play in publicity and the program would lead one to believe the majority of the story would be between the mother and the ex-prison son come home, I was disappointed that said encounter does not actually happen until the very last few minutes of the play. It is also at that time when the older and younger Rasher and older and younger Dolly and Masher are juxtaposed on stage with alternating dialogue. This is an exceptionally well-written and impressively acted scene. 

I understand why the publicity was purposely vague in not telling us the specifics of the crime. It would spoil the unexpected and exciting twists and turns the plot takes as it builds to a gratifying and unexpected finish. The talents of the actors playing multiple parts made me truly believe there were seven characters on stage instead of four, and once I understood the storyline alternating between past and present, reality and fantasy, I found the play to be well-staged and engrossing.

I strongly advise against attendance by anyone under 18 but encourage anyone who appreciates good acting, writing and directing, and who is willing, and strong enough, to venture into an emotionally challenging place, to see Crackskull Row. This show is not for the sensitive or faint of heart but will leave a lasting impression.

To purchase tickets ($25.00), call 1-800-838-3006 or visit www.thecelltheatre.org 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Charlie Poveromo & The Barry Levitt Quartet at The Metropolitan Room by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Charlie Poveromo & The Barry Levitt Quartet at The Metropolitan Room was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Charlie Poveromo & The Barry Levitt Quartet
Starring Charlie Poveromo
Musical Director: Barry Levitt
Quartet Members: Barry Levitt, Ronnie Zito,
Jeff Carney & Jack Cavari
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 9/14/16  

There are scores of performers in cabaret rooms, VFW halls, and nursing homes singing the songs made famous by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett, Elvis Presley and other pop stars from the 1950s and 1960s. They always elicit a certain nostalgia from those old enough to have heard those songs performed live. The problem is that many of those ego-driven entertainers don't have good voices, occasionally sing off-key, and are backed by mediocre musicians in the twilight of their careers. None of those faults were present in this show. Charlie Poveromo is an amazing, talented performer and entertainer committed to the music and to interacting with the audience in a manner that makes them feel a part of the show. Six months away from being 21 years old, Charlie graduated from Tottenville High School in Staten Island and was awarded a music scholarship to Wagner College. At Tottenville, he was a member of the Elite Madrigal Choir & Honors Concert Choir, groups led by JoAnne Nolemi, the school's musical director. Ms. Nolemi was quoted as saying, "I have taught voice and chorus for over 20 years. I have sent students to Julliard, Broadway, operas, "American Idol" and "The Voice" and Charlie has the finest, warmest, most beautiful voice I have ever encountered."


Charlie Poveromo is a natural on stage. He appears confident, comfortable, and utterly at ease. His unique but recognizable renditions of popular standards are all audience pleasers. His captivating body language and pitch-perfect technical brilliance reveal he is a fresh, new, exciting talent we feel honored to have seen perform at the very beginning of what promises to be a long and successful career. Mr. Poveromo develops an excellent rapport with his audience. He takes us on a musical journey as a friend might and we are made to feel special, as though the performance is about us and not him

Charlie Poveromo is backed up by The Barry Levitt Quartet, world-class musicians who didn't miss a beat. Barry Levitt, Charlie's musical director, encouraged him to reach the tippy top of his range. Those notes all received the most enthusiastic applause, and deservedly so. Mr. Poveromo jokingly scolded Barry Levitt for pushing him to "modulate to Heaven." Bobby Darin at the Copa in 1960 and Charlie Poveromo at The Metropolitan Room in 2016 were both accompanied by Ronnie Zito on drums. Jeff Carney on bass played for Barbra Streisand and Jack Cavari on guitar had the honor of performing with Frank Sinatra. Barry Levitt has worked with dozens of top artists including Eartha Kitt, Judy Collins, and Ben Vereen. The only criticism I have for Barry Levitt, the musical director, is that he felt the need to add an "Overture" to the show. Given the limited time, the "Overture" could not include snippets of all the primary songs so they were forced to leave out important "orphaned" numbers. Shows of this kind are short, usually one-hour long, and the inclusion of an "Overture" just encroaches on the "meat" of an already constrained performance length.

I was disappointed the show did not have a name or a theme nor did we learn anything personal about the performer other than that he recently made a mistake in a relationship with a girl, which led him to perform "Let Me Try Again." The good news is that with this song, he exhibited the ability to sing in styles different than those highlighted in the show. His body movements were perfect as was his use of the microphone. Half-way through the performance, he asked the audience if they minded if he took off his suit jacket. When some women whistled, he told them "not to get excited" but then said, "my dressing room is downstairs." He seemed not to hear the men who were whistling and waiting for their invitation to visit his dressing room. There were a few things he did on stage, which I personally found distracting. First was his comments to the band saying things such as "Are you ready?", "Play it, boys!", "That's it, Barry!", and "Do it dirty!". Second was his encouragement of the audience to clap at many times during the performance. I know some performers see this as a way to get the audience involved but, in my view, we have paid to see the performer and not to perform ourselves - we are not trained seals. Third, and finally, I don't think it was necessary for him to ask the audience a number of times whether they were enjoying themselves. After all, what are they going to say, "No, I am hating it." He should be able to tell from the applause whether the people in attendance are having a good time. These three items are just personal pet-peeves of mine. Others may not share my viewpoint.

Charlie Poveromo is a very strong singer who never disappoints. He sounds and moves like a veteran performer. This particular evening, he sang "As Long As I Am Singing", "Some Of These Days", "Ace In The Hole", "That's All", "Rags To Riches", "Ain't That A Kick In The Head", "Goody Goody", "Are You Lonesome Tonight", "Volare", "That's Life", "Let Me Try Again", "Mack The Knife", "The Curtain Falls", "Lazy River", and a Bobby Darin Medley, which included "Splish Splash", "Beyond The Sea", "Artificial Flowers", and "Clementine". Overall, it was a beautiful well-structured show with a variety of popular songs in a perfect venue to highlight his talents. Charlie Poveromo comes across as a nice guy from a good, traditional, family of Italian descent. You can imagine yourself having a great time if you were lucky enough to be invited to a barbecue at his home in Staten Island. Relatives and supportive friends filled the audience. Non-related audience members felt welcomed into this circle and given the quality of  the performance, you didn't mind sharing in their enthusiasm for this up-and-coming star.

Charlie Poveromo & The Barry Levitt Quartet will be returning to The Metropolitan Room on Sunday, November 13, 2016 at 4:00 p.m. Tickets cost $24.00 and there is a two-drink minimum. To purchase your tickets, go to http://metropolitanroom.com/event.cfm?id=237983&cart The entertainment value you will receive is well-worth the cost of admission!