Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of The Parkside Players' production of Urinetown: The Musical at Grace Lutheran Church by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Parkside Players' production of "Urinetown: The Musical" at Grace Lutheran Church (Forest Hills) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Urinetown: The Musical
Directed by Bill Logan
Musical Direction by Jeffrey Arzberger
Choreography by David Arzberger
The Parkside Players
Grace Lutheran Church (103-15 Union Turnpike, Forest Hills, NY)
Reviewed 5/24/15 

Urinetown: The Musical is a timely tale of crony capitalism, corporate greed, paying off the police and bribing the political elite (a trip to Rio, anyone?) in a time of water shortages, decreasing natural resources and worldwide ecological devastation. It also touches on the elements of a successful revolution, the inability of revolutionaries to deliver on the lofty promises made, the tragedy of the commons, populism, socialism, capitalism, and the realities of supply and demand. Urinetown: The Musical debuted at the New York International Fringe Festival and then was produced Off-Broadway at the American Theatre for Actors from May 6, 2001 to June 25, 2001. The musical then opened on Broadway at Henry Miller's Theatre on September 20, 2001, closing on January 18, 2004, after 25 previews and 965 performances. The show won a Tony Award for Best Book and Best Score. The music was written by Mark Hollmann; lyrics were by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis; and the book was written by Greg Kotis. Urinetown: The Musical is a satirical comedy musical that parodies musicals such as The Threepenny Opera, The Cradle Will Rock, Les Miserables and the Broadway musical itself as an art form.

According to the storyline, there was a time many years ago called the Stink Time, where due to drought, the reservoirs dried up and there wasn't enough water to flush all the toilets as many times as people would like to use them. As a result, people urinated everywhere and the city stank. Along came Caldwell B. Cladwell and the UGC (Urine Good Company) that offered the politicians a solution that would "keep the pee off the street and the water in the ground." UGC would require everyone in town to use public amenities and pay for the "privilege to pee." That would reduce water consumption and draconian laws would require everyone "to use public toilets to take care of their private business." Violation of the law might just result in the police expelling you to Urinetown. Since no one knew whether Urinetown was a real place or just a euphemism for the police killing you, everyone lived in a state of fear. To make matters worse, Caldwell B. Cladwell continued to call on the legislature to raise public amenity fees and obtained compliance through bribery and payoffs (not to mention a "Beaches of Rio" slide show). This resulted in a backlash and a revolutionary uprising amongst the "hopeless, down and out" who could no longer afford to pay to pee. Before the poor could beg and ask people to "spare a penny for a pee" but now they could no longer beg for enough money to afford the fee hikes.    

Hope, Cladwell's idealistic daughter, just returned from graduating one of the best universities in the world. She has started work as a fax and copy girl for her father and has instantly fallen in love with Bobby Strong (everyone loves Bobby Strong; how can she not fall in love with him, after all, he is the hero of the show), whose father was just sent to Urinetown (get the shovel and mop - you know the drill). Penelope Pennywise (who we later learn is Hope's biological mother), collects the money at the Public Amenity #9 at which Bobby Strong works. She defends the law and the punishment his father got for peeing in public but Bobby Strong expresses a revolutionary idea. He says, "What if the law is wrong. What if we change the law and allow everyone to pee without payment or restriction. A new law that comes from a muscular, blood-pounding organ (e.g. the heart) where no man will be denied because of the money he has and no one will be denied help by someone with the means to help him." Bobby's heart wants a planet where peace and joy reign and everyone has plenty of water. Caldwell B. Cladwell tries to reason with Bobby by encouraging him to think about tomorrow and what his proposed socialist policies will result in over time. Bobby's populist supporters seem only concerned about today and Ms. Pennywise fears that anarchy will follow and runs off stage yelling, "What will become of us!" The corrupt, but realistic, Mr. Cladwell warns that "Life is a beating" and that every one's goal in life should be to avoid "being the bunny." 

Eventually, Hope Cladwell joins and leads the revolution after Bobby Strong is martyred. The UGC is taken over and she orders her own father killed. She ignores the results of the water studies her father had requested and allows free access to water for all who need it or want it without limitation or cost. The remaining water eventually becomes "silky and brackish," and undrinkable. Hope continues expressing platitudes such as the "river is within you" and telling citizens that they "are the river fighting for freedom and fighting for justice." Hope (appropriately named) is killed by the mob despite her good intentions, and it is implied that everyone in town eventually dies of dehydration, which is followed by the drying up of the Amazon River Basin and the end of life on the planet itself. No happy ending here! Hail Malthus!

This production of Urinetown: The Musical was expertly directed by Bill Logan and featured some innovative choreography by David Arzberger. The very professional five-piece live orchestra included Jeffrey Arzberger (Music Director/Piano), Heather Arzberger (Reeds), Andrew Viverito (Trombone), Richard Louis-Pierre (Bass), and Chris Wengert (Percussion). The entire cast is very talented but the three standout performers were Erik Neilssen, who charismatically played Officer Lockstock (the Narrator), Katherine Robinson, who was the cheerful, idealistic Hope Cladwell, and Michael Wolf, who nailed the part and personality of Caldwell B. Cladwell, the greedy but realistic businessman. There were some funny, unexpected moments when Senator Fipp, believably portrayed by Mark York, claimed to have once been a little girl, and when Officer Barrel, powerfully brought to life by Michael "Phoenix" Gray  expressed his true love and admiration for Officer Lockstock. I don't mean to suggest the performances of Jeffrey Tierney as Bobby Strong, Jenna Kantor as Penelope Pennywise, Lori Feren as Little Sally or David Arzberger as Old Man Strong/Hot Blades Harry were deficient or inadequate in any way. All did a fine job with their respective roles. But in each case, I would have liked to have seen them reach for a higher level of performance in order to better stand out and distinguish their character. For example, Bobby Strong is supposed to be a shining knight and a sex symbol of sorts who is not too bright but whom everyone likes. In this production, there was too much brown and yellow smudge on his face and clothing to make him attractive to me and even if he took off his shirt in a scene or two to better project that imagine, it may not have worked in this case. 

Despite these minor quibbles, I guarantee you will enjoy The Parkside Players' production of this interesting and thought-provoking musical. You have two more weekends to catch Urinetown: The Musical at Grace Lutheran Church in Forest Hills. The cost is $20.00 for adults and $18.00 for seniors. For tickets and reservations, call 718-353-7388 or 516-520-9474 or reserve on line at http://www.parksideplayers.com 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Solas Laughs at Solas by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Solas Laughs at Solas was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Solas Laughs
Host: Ben Rosenfeld
Producer: Michelle Slonim
Comics: Eddie Brill, Jessica Brodkin, YouJean Chang, 
Danny Palmer, Tori Pishkin, Ben Rosenfeld, Michelle Slonim
Solas (232 East 9th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 5/9/15 at 7:30 p.m.

There is no better place to start off your Friday, Saturday or Sunday night with friends than Solas Laughs, which offers free admission and professional comics in an intimate, cozy space on the second floor of Solas, an extremely popular East Village bar. You can buy drink specials before the show each night. I had two Sangria's for only $4.00 a drink. You can also win free drinks and prizes through a raffle and are given an opportunity to voluntarily donate a few bucks if you enjoyed the show. If you are planning a "night on the town," I highly recommend you start off your evening in Manhattan with Solas Laughs. Even if you are just planning to have dinner with your mates, I suggest you go to Solas first, buy a couple of reasonably priced drinks and have a few laughs before heading out to the many fine restaurants and clubs in the neighborhood. Up-to-date information on Solas Laughs can be found on its Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/solaslaugh?fref=ts 

Rating the performing comics in this particular show by the quality of their material and how well they connected with the audience, I would have to give first prize to Ben Rosenfeld and second prize to YouJean Chang. The remaining comics in order would be Eddie Brill, Jessica Brodkin, Michelle Slonim, Danny Palmer & Tori Pishkin. 

Ben Rosenfeld is a fresh, up-and-coming comic with some great material, much of which centers around his ethnic and religious heritage of being a Russian Jew. Ben speaks about how Russia has found a way to deny it has any gay people. Now it only has "men who make bad choices." For example, gay sex is being treated as criminal "breaking and entering" and as "trespassing" as opposed to any form of sodomy. He also spoke about his Russian father, who when called to school and told his son "can't hit people", offered to train him to be a better fighter. Ben says he played football but it was problematic since he "couldn't touch the pigskin." On the positive side, he did "bat down the other team's Hail Marys" because he "didn't believe in them." Ben also said he graduated Rutgers with degrees in economics and philosophy. Basically, he "knows how to make money, but just doesn't see the point in it." Going on, he said a buddy of his was all proud to have moved into a Pre-War building. Ben said, I just don't see why he is all excited about that, "if you're properly pessimistic, all buildings are pre-war buildings!" Ben Rosenfeld has appeared on FOX's Laughs, CBS This Morning and Rooftop Comedy. He created the illustrated coffee table book, Russian Optimism: Dark Nursery Rhymes To Cheer You Right Up. For more information about Ben, visit his blog at: http://www.bigbencomedy.com/blog/

YouJean Chang has some interesting observations about modern culture and social media. As he points out, in the dating arena, there are websites for every ethnic group and fetish but you can't be that specific when offering or seeking employment. As he explained, "JewJobs.com" is not going to fly. YouJean says he met his current girlfriend on Linkedin and that "she fell in love with him as soon as she read (his) resume." He says he is in the opposite position to today's economy. He is "Chinese and owes a lot of money to American banks." Another example of his humor is when he reported that a woman once told him she would prefer a book as a gift instead of a bottle of liquor. YouJean complained that "a book isn't going to make a girl make a bad decision for the night." No woman has ever told her girlfriend, "Oh, I really fucked up last night. I read far too many books and ended up sucking that guy's dick in the bathroom." You can stay in touch with YouJean Chang on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/youjean.chang?fref=ts or on Twitter at @YouJeanChang.

Eddie Brill is an accomplished, talented, affable, charismatic man who is able to win his audience over without even having to try. In this show, he told a story about how he beat up a kid who said something about his mother when he was a 9 year-old growing up in Brooklyn. He also mentioned something about not having many clean clothes and how he always celebrated Mother's Day with his mom a day early. The material was not particularly humorous, but Eddie Brill is a very funny man who puts you at ease and in the mood to have a good time. That explains why for the past sixteen years, he has worked on The Late Show with David Letterman, currently as the audience warm-up and for eleven years prior as the Stand Up Comedy Talent Coordinator. Eddie Brill is a 3-time MAC award winner for Outstanding Male Comic in New York City.  

Jessica Brodkin is a high-energy, personable comic who takes her audience by storm. She lived in New York but moved to Virgina for a number of years before returning. She gets frustrated when her friends who stayed here tell her New York City is "the greatest city in the world." She feels like asking them, "Have you been to other cities?" While in Virginia, she observed Civil War reenactors and wondered why you would want to reenact a war in which you were a loser. Along those lines, she is thinking of reenacting High School in which she might say, "This time, I will use Proactive!" Jessica says she "has been married for just a year," so she "still loves her husband, who is black." She says she gets grief at Thanksgiving when whoever carves the turkey asks, "who wants dark meat?" and everyone at the table points to her and says "she does!" Jessica is a stand-up comedian, actress and voice over artist who has appeared on HBOs VEEP, PBS's The Truth About Money, National Geographic's Brain Games, Investigation Discovery and CNN's Congressional Correspondents Dinner. She began her comedy career in the Washington D.C. area where she was a regular at DC Improv, the Arlington Cinema Drafthouse, and Magooby's Joke House. For more information about Jessica Brodkin, visit her website at: http://www.jessicabrodkin.com/

Michelle Slonim works tirelessly behind the scenes to produce comedy shows five nights a week in New York City. She has produced web-shows for Comedy Central, HBO and SiriusXM Radio. She is a member of the Friars Club. In this show, she reported her mom has always said, "age is just a number, but mine is unlisted." Michelle says she got fired as a teacher for having her kids act out a mani-pedi but she knows now she went too far when she had them give her a Brazilian." (Note to Michelle - Gun Hill Road is in the Bronx, not in Brooklyn. If there is one in Brooklyn, people don't identify with it being there) For more information on Michelle, visit her website at: http://michelleslonim.net/

Danny Palmer portrays himself on stage as a 39-year old, "single, horny duck" who has so far bucked "the natural order of things" by not getting married and having a family and thinks it's "cool" he got "thrown out of his apartment due to noise complaints." His image is that of a frat boy who asks the audience if it's O.K. that he "only hits on the girls." That, of course, left out all the boys in the room. Even his blog announces, "This is just geared towards hot girls. If you are not a hot girl, go find a hot girl to read this over your shoulder." Perhaps Danny needs to better separate his professional career as a comic from his sexual appetite as an Alpha Male predator. Calvin Klein Recruiter by day, Danny Palmer transforms into a stand-up comic at night. Tori Pishkin was the final comic to perform. She did a very funny bit about how an inner-city hood's body movements could sometimes look like he is "robbing things off the shelves of a deli." Both Danny and Tori have a good look and a winning stage presence but they both need better material and a bit more experience if they are going to make it in this business.

Solas Laughs continues to rotate the list of comics who are going to perform on any particular evening so drop in and have some fun! 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of That Bachelorette Show! at 42 West by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of That Bachelorette Show! at 42 West was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

That Bachelorette Show!
Created by Ken Davenport
Choreographer: Jessica West Regan
Lighting Designer: Jamie Roderick
Costume Designer: Travis Chinick
42 West (514 West 42nd Street, NYC)
Reviewed 5/2/15 at 8:00 p.m.

That Bachelorette Show! is an interactive parody of America's favorite reality romance shows complete with red roses being given to the winners of the respective elimination rounds. The premise is that 27-year old Adriana Orlando from Smithtown, Long Island, having just broken up with Giovanni Giovanni, her boyfriend of 8 years (they've known each other for 22 years having met in the playground when they were both 5-years old), has decided to allow the audience members of this television show to decide who she is going to marry. On their most recent anniversary, Giovanni Giovanni went to Atlantic City with the boys, and this was the last straw for Adriana, who thought a marriage proposal was long overdue. The contestant bachelors lobby for the votes of the audience during dance breaks and, if selected, they have contractually agreed to marry Ms. Orlando. Upbeat club music is supplied by Celebrity DJs AndrewAndrew and the expert lighting design of Jamie Roderick successfully recreates the atmosphere of a cool, happening dance club, complete with light-reflecting disco balls.

The show's fictitious sponsor is Hell No! condoms (as in "do you really want to have a child with that guy?" - "Hell No!"). Being in 42 West puts you in a good mood. There are white-lit banisters leading to unisex bathrooms. Loud recognizable dance tunes keeping the beat in the background. Mother/daughter and boyfriend/girlfriend pre-show dance contests for tee shirts and drink tickets that include dance moves that once seen can never be unseen. Funny jokes from Malcolm Love ("The Host"), enthusiastically portrayed by Andy Peeke, who greets the audience members pre-show and has a number of interesting lines such as, "Are you here with your boyfriend?" and if the woman says yes, he responds, "O.K. I won't tell your husband." Special sashes are given to real brides-to-be attending this event as part of their Bachelorette Party festivities. Most importantly, every audience member, male or female, is treated with equal respect. Prospective grooms vie for the votes of all audience members who get to cast their votes at www.thatbachelorettevote.com. There is even a Lady Suitor that is put in the mix along with Giovanni Giovanni, who shows up to win back the heart of his loved one (Maybe he wasn't really in Atlantic City? Maybe he has crabs? Maybe he's just a jerk?) - again, you, the audience, will get to decide his fate). Adriana Orlando, The Bachelorette, who says very little during the show, is played by Joanne Nosuchinsky, a former Miss New York USA.

The Bachelors include Judder Jones, the Farmer (Lukas Poost); Lt. Col. Tyler Peck, The Pilot (Kelsey J. Nash); Dr. Lencho, The Heart Surgeon (Pedro de Leon); Brian Burtleman, The Average Joe (Russell Daniels); Nicky Fangs, The British Rockstar (James Royce Edwards); Tripp Swift, The Wall Street Guy (Alex Fast); The Prince, Prince Al Zaheed (Douglas Goodhart); Zeke Double Moon Turtle, The Surfer (BJ Gruber); and, as already mentioned, Mack Jenkins, The Lady Suitor (Gavyn Pickens) and Giovanni Giovanni, The Ex-Boyfriend (Gianmarco Soresi). The show is only 90-minutes long and includes long dance breaks during which the audience dances and interacts with the prospective grooms, taking selfies and being lobbied for votes. I would like to have seen more on-stage action. A short interview with each of the contestants would have been nice. Perhaps some choreographed dance contests or even a scene where all the contestants strip down to their underwear, and ultimately, into their birthday suits. After all, if this show hopes to compete with Naked Boys Singing! as the go-to alternative for bachelorettes out on the town with their girls ready to engage in some naughty fun, That Bachelorette Show! is going to have to show a little skin and become a bit more X-rated, if it hopes to compete in the long run.

I personally voted for The Farmer and The Pilot, but it seems the attendees preferred the underdogs on the night I caught the show. Being a mere stereotype, you are able to fantasize all you like about what you think your favorite contestant is like. You can even imagine you might be able to take him home from the dance party after he loses and is a free, single guy again. The format of this show has legs. I can see it utilized on cruise ships where the contestants are regular passengers competing for a date with a single girl. It's a fun innovation letting the audience vote online in real time in each elimination round. Still, to compete as a bachelorette party alternative, the show needs to jack up the sexual tension and move from a PG-rated show to at least an R-rated one. That having been said, no one will leave this show not having had a great time. I highly recommend you see That Bachelorette Show! and immerse yourself in the experience. For tickets, visit www.ThatBacheloretteShow.com or call 866-811-4111.

Applause! Applause! Review of The Gallery Players' production of Evita by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Gallery Players' production of Evita was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Mark Harborth
The Gallery Players 
199 14th Street, Brooklyn, NY
Reviewed 5/1/15 at 8:00 p.m.

Evita is a musical about the life of Argentine political leader Eva Duarte de Peron, the First Lady of Argentina (wife of Argentine President Juan Peron), who was known as the "Spiritual Leader of the Nation." Originally released as a rock opera concept album in 1976, the musical opened with Elaine Paige as Eva (the affectionate Spanish language diminutive of which is Evita) at the Prince Edward Theatre in London's West End on June 21, 1978 closing on February 18, 1986 after 3,176 performances. This West End production won Olivier Awards for Best New Musical and Best Performance in a Musical (Elaine Paige). After debuting at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, the Broadway production of Evita opened with Patti LuPone as Eva at the Broadway Theatre on September 25, 1979 closing on June 26, 1983 after 1,567 performances. This production won many Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Book of a Musical. The 1996 film of Evita starred Madonna as Eva Peron. On June 2, 2006, the first major London production of Evita in 20 years opened in the West End at the Adelphi Theatre with Argentine actress Elena Roger as Eva. Roger received an Olivier Award nomination for her performance but the show closed on May 26, 2007 after a run of less than 12 months. A Broadway revival of the 2006 West End production of Evita opened on April 5, 2012 at the Marquis Theatre with Elena Roger in the title role and Ricky Marin as Che. The production was nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival but it closed on January 26, 2013 after 337 performances. A second West End Revival opened on September 22, 2014 for a limited run at the Dominion Theatre with Madalena Alberto as Eva Peron.

If you are a fan of this musical or somehow missed seeing it during the past four decades, I strongly recommend you catch this outstanding production of Evita at The Gallery Players sometime before May 17, 2015. Directed by Mark Harborth, you will get the full experience of this inspirational, thought-provoking musical about power, social injustice, personal ambition, corruption, ego and "the art of the possible." The large company of actors are all superbly talented. Dale Sampson was surprisingly refreshing in the role of Che. Jonathan D. Mesisca carried off a convincing Juan Peron, with genuine sympathy and love for his wife Eva. Glen llanes almost sang too well in the role of Augustin Magaldi for us to believe his audiences weren't pleased with his act. Monica Bradley gave a moving performance as Peron's last mistress singing "Another Suitcase In Another Hall" but she could have used a little more vocal projection. Carman Napier as Eva Peron is certainly a competent actress and singer who tried the best she could, but I wasn't captivated or emotionally moved by her performance. In addition, the reverberations and echoes added to some of her speeches turned out to be more annoying than authentic. The standout actor in the ensemble, who also is the understudy for Che, is Hubbard Farr. Powerful, talented, good-looking and charismatic, Mr. Farr has a strong stage presence and an impressive voice. He has all it takes to make it big in show business and I encourage him to do whatever he needs to in order to make the contacts to get the recognition he deserves. As for the "descamisados" (the "shirtless ones" of the labour movement), they must have chosen to wear shirts during the labour rallies that were depicted in this production. Very few "shirtless ones," if any, were in view.

The Gallery Players, a volunteer-run community theatre in Park Slope now in its 48th season, won the Beaux Arts Society's Leonardo daVinci Award for Best Community Theatre in 2013. Many of its productions are top-notch and offer the public quality theatre at an extremely affordable price. For tickets and further information about The Gallery Players, visit www.galleryplayers.com 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Chip Deffaa's Mad About The Boy at 13th Street Repertory Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Chip Deffaa's Mad About The Boy at 13th Street Repertory Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Mad About The Boy
Written, Arranged & Directed by Chip Deffaa
Music Director: Richard Danley
Choreographer: Rayna Hirt
13th Street Repertory Theater (50 West 13th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 4/19/15 at 7:00 p.m.

Chip Deffaa conceived this show with the aim of providing a mix of entertainment and education. He wanted to remind people that songs and recordings with a gay sensibility were being created long before the advent of the gay liberation movement. An original 50-minute prototype of the show was seen by nine-time Tony Award-winner Tommy Tune, who encouraged Deffaa to develop it into a full-length show. The new version of Mad About The Boy was workshopped at the 13th Street Repertory Theater with its first reading held on October 31, 2014 and its first public performance on April 12, 2015. This extremely entertaining show features fifteen (15) talented cast members and four new songs written by Chip Deffaa: "I'm Crazy For My Baby In A Uniform," Sidekick," "Ex-Gay," and "You Need To Be Loved To Be Happy." Mad About The Boy is described by Chip Deffaa as a work-in-progress with material still being added to and removed from the show to better improve it.  He is the author of sixteen (16) published plays and eight (8) published books. Richard Danley, the show's Music Director and pianist, is on the faculty of the American Musical & Dramatic Academy (AMDA) and has served as Music Director for Peter Duchin's Broadway revues; played countless cabaret shows in New York, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles; and has performed everywhere from daytime dramas on television, to cruise ships, to Carnegie Hall.

Mad About The Boy is a big, gay extravaganza featuring songs with gender-neutral pronouns that can be sung by two guys or interpreted from a gay perspective, lyrics with words containing double-entendre, and songs written by gay, lesbian and/or bi-sexual composers and lyricists. You will be moved by the relatively innocent young man trying to sell apples on the street while being constantly side-tracked by men who burst into song and would rather have a taste of his "jelly roll." You will be ready to march in a gay parade when the cast performs an inspiring rendition of the 1920 gay anthem "Lavender Nights" (a/k/a "The Lavender Song"). You will be angry when a bible-thumping, politically ambitious minister from Tennessee interrupts the rehearsal in an attempt to stop the show from opening in three days and amused when you learn he has returned to Splash over and over again on wet underwear night "looking to see who he could save." Finally, you will leave the musical with a new appreciation for "America The Beautiful," whose lyrics were written by Katharine Lee Bates, a woman who was in a "Boston marriage" for many decades. 

Shinice Hemmings, an amazingly talented young woman, led the ensemble in the second reprise of "America The Beautiful," which was an inspirational moment created by depicting Gay Americans singing a patriotic song whose lyrics were most likely written by a lesbian. Ms. Hemmings also hit a home run singing "B.D. Women's Blues," "Prove It On Me Blues," "T'Ain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do," and with other cast members singing "Masculine Women, Feminine Men" and "Lesbian Madness." The relatively mature Michael Knowles did a good job performing "The Boy In The Boat," and "Sissyman Blues" but he should have been moved further downstage center since his voice was not strong enough to carry from where he stood. With the mood created by Shinice and Michael, you could imagine yourself relaxing in a Buffet Flat (privately owned apartments in African-American neighborhoods in the first third of the 20th century that doubled as speakeasies and brothels that offered a buffet of booze, sex shows, marijuana and other illegal diversions). 

While there were other female cast members, this musical is really "all about the boy" and as three audience members stated, "the only additional thing this musical could use are "more boys" and "more skin," which Toby Medlyn (who played Reverend Billious S. Love and sang "I Can Always Find A Little Sunshine In The Y.M.C.A.", "Sidekick" & "Ex-Gay") and Michael J.C. Anderson (who played The Brit, Ryan Davis, Houdini, Michael Riedel and one of the Caveman and sang "Let's All Be Fairies") would have been more than willing to provide, right down to their birthday suits, if only they had been asked. Good for them for having the courage to be willing to do whatever the part calls for! The "advice" offered by the "planted" audience members was not meant seriously since Mad About The Boy features plenty of handsome, good-looking young men proudly parading around in their underwear, in swimsuits or in cavemen outfits. 

Just in case you were under the impression the gay rights movement began with the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, this musical will adjust your misconception when you hear the English lyrics of "The Lavender Song" (written in 1920; music by Mischa Spoliansky; lyrics by Kurt Schwabach & Jeremy Lawrence) sung by Michael Czyz, Shince Bre and the ensemble in Mad About The Boy. Those amazing lyrics are the following: "What makes them think they have the right to say what God considers vice. What makes them think they have the right to keep us out of Paradise. They make our lives hell here on Earth poisoning us with guilt and shame. If we resist, prison awaits so our love dares not speak its name. The crime is when love must hide. From now on we'll love with pride. * We're not afraid to be queer and different if that means hell -- well, hell we'll take the chance. They're all so straight, uptight and rigid. They march in lockstep, we prefer to dance. We see a world of romance and pleasure. All they can see is sheer banality. Lavender nights are our greatest treasure where we can be just who we want to be. * Round us all up; send us away; that's what you'd really like to do. But we're too strong, proud, unafraid; in fact we almost pity you. You act from fear, why should that be? What is it that you are frightened of? The way that we dress? The way that we meet? The fact that you cannot destroy our love? We're going to win our rights to lavender days and night." Of course the Nazi Party came to power in 1933 ending what little freedom gays and lesbians had during the days of the Weimar Republic.

While different members of the ensemble cast of Mad About The Boy play different roles at different performances, the primary actors at the show I saw were Joris de Graaf, Cody Jordan, Benjamin Grier and Michael Czyz. Joris de Graaf, who is from The Netherlands, was the best I've ever seen him. He sang "Let's Misbehave," "My Buddy," and "Beach Boy." The very attractive and extremely gifted Cody Jordan sang "I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None O' My Jelly Roll," "If Your Kisses Can't Hold The Man You Love," "Puh-Lease, Mr. Hemingway" (with Joris de Graaf), "Do Something," "I Want To Be Bad," and "He's A Good Man To Have Around." Benjamin Grier hit home runs with "I Can't Make A Man," "Find Me A Primitive Man," "I'm Crazy For My Baby In A Uniform," "My Cozy Little Corner At The Ritz," and "Just Some Guy." Michael Czyz, originally from Western Canada, gave us his all singing "Come Up And See Me Sometime" and You'd Be Surprised." Other standout performers were Maite Uzal, Amanda Andrews, John Brady, Al Roths, and Mark Blowers. Other songs included "He's So Unusual," "Help! The Girls Are After Me!", "He's My Secret Passion," "Pretty Baby," "That Old Time Religion," "When The Special Girlfriend," and "Green Carnation." When the CD from this monumental musical comes out, I promise you will want to listen to it repeatedly whenever you get the chance. 

There is no better musical playing in New York City this season than Mad About The Boy. Chip Deffaa has outdone himself this time and while I would tweak the script here and there were I in charge, the show is such a significant accomplishment, that it is more than fine just the way it is. You will want to go back to see it over and over in order to catch different actors playing different roles and singing different songs. If you are tolerant, open-minded and love the theater, this musical is for you. Start your fight for Lavender Days & Lavender Nights by going to see Chip Deffaa's Mad About The Boy many times during its current run -- and don't forget to wear your green carnation! For tickets, go to www.13thStreetRep.org

Monday, April 20, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Moonlight After Midnight at The Kraine Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Moonlight After Midnight at The Kraine Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Moonlight After Midnight
Written by Martin Dockery
Dramaturgy by Vanessa Quesnelle
Performed by Martin Dockery & Vanessa Quesnelle
The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 4/17/15 at 8:00 p.m. 

It is hard to know anything for sure in Martin Dockery's Moonlight After Midnight as versions of the Guy In A Room and Girl At A Wedding play out fictitious scenarios that may or may not tell you anything about their past relationship. The play opens with a guy sitting in a chair in a hotel room looking out the window tracking a comet on a 10-year trajectory around the sun after which it will return on the same day and time before finally flying out into the universe never to be seen again. Despite the scientific unlikeliness of this fact, it is the hand we are dealt as the universe in which this meeting between the guy and girl takes place. The woman enters the room and appears to recognize the guy sitting in the chair but he tells her not to look at him, not to mention his wife, and not to say anything about how she misses him. The guy starts to ask the woman to play-act various scenes in which she enters and re-enters the room, sometimes posing as an escort he allegedly hired, sometimes acting as a woman who is attending a wedding who just happens to wander into his room and sometimes as his wife, although he refuses to kiss her. I personally had no clue why he was acting in this manner or what he wanted, and after a certain point, I didn't care. The whole process of watching a sub-script within a sub-script within a script was exhausting and it failed to provide any additional insight into the characters or what the various scenarios were supposed to reveal.

The facts I could ascertain were that these two individuals were once very much in love. They may have met in this hotel room when the comet was first seen. The girl was probably attending a wedding and did accidentally wander into his room, where they talked and fell in love. The guy told the girl then that he would be back exactly 10 years later to see the comet before it flew out into the universe. Three years later they married but he disappeared from their wedding reception and went back to their room claiming he was tired and lying about having a good time. By morning, he disappeared without a clue never to be seen again. Maybe love is as fleeting as the momentary presence of a comet. The girl remarried but on the 1oth year anniversary of the comet coming back around one last time, she made an excuse to leave her husband and two kids and to book that very same hotel room in the hope her ex-husband would be there and that she could finally obtain closure by finding out why he left her. The non-existent, imaginary guy in the room suggests that perhaps one explanation is that he went swimming and drowned but that doesn't really supply any answer the girl hadn't thought of as a possibility herself. So the play ends with the girl sitting in the chair looking at the comet flying out into space.

The writing isn't crisp or clear and there are very few memorable lines. My favorite was an exchange that took place when the guy revealed he used tape on the window to follow the trajectory of the comet. The girl says in response, "You're not exactly NASA", to which the guy says, "I have a smaller budget." The name of the play comes from an observation the girl makes when looking out the window to see the comet that was positioned somewhere near the moon. She says, "This is what you see when you look out at the moon after midnight." The bright star in Moon After Midnight is Vanessa Quesnelle, who is an extraordinarily talented actor and singer. In the production, she sings portions of three Patsy Cline songs, Walking After Midnight, Crazy & I Fall To Pieces, a cappella. However, her charismatic stage presence and good looks are not enough to save this play, that has no edge, no substantive revelations and a writing style that seems to reflect the main male character's motto to just Go With The Flow! Unfortunately, that flow takes the audience to a place they'd rather not go.

Applause! Applause! Review of Ronnie Giles' My Favorite Baby Boomer Love Songs at Don't Tell Mama by George Strum

This review of Ronnie Giles' My Favorite Baby Boomer Love Songs at Don't Tell Mama was written by George Strum and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

My Favorite Baby Boomer Love Songs - Ronnie Giles

Don't Tell Mama (343 West 46th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 3/6/15 at 7:00 p.m.

Ronnie Giles is fairly new to this game of cabaret performing but you wouldn't know it as he comes off like an old pro in his original One-Man Show entitled "My Favorite Baby Boomer Love Songs" at Don't Tell Mama. The dozen or so songs he performs with aplomb are with Daryl Kojak, his accompanying pianist and his musical director and arranger. The comic banter between numbers kept the proceedings light. However, one small glitch in communication occurred when Mr. Giles began to sing a song that his pianist wasn't playing, but that was handled humorously. The songs chosen all sit comfortably in the 60's and the emotion and feeling of each song was well-communicated to the audience. The highlight was his rendition of "Town Without Pity." It had a cool and jazzy feel about it as if he lived through an unrequited romance.

Mr. Giles likes to move now and then through his numbers which shows his agility and keeps the act from being static, which was well-appreciated by all attendees. In the middle of the program, Mr. Giles introduces a "surprise guest." Well, anything like this can happen here in New York City and it did here. The Diva herself, Barbra Streisand, who we are told was a good old friend of Mr. Giles from his Brooklyn days. Actually, she was portrayed by Dorothy Bishop, a professional celebrity impersonator who has her own show, The Dozen Divas, at the Metropolitan Room. A duet of "People" had its share of laughs. Ms. Bishop, although not exactly a Barbra look-alike, was able to capture her singing and vocal eccentricities. I think Ms. Bishop is talented in her own right and meeting her after the show, I was also able to see that she is a sweet person. Taking the stage solo again, Mr. Giles gives it his all in a show tune like Porter medley finale.

Ronnie Giles is a fine example of fulfilling one's dreams late in life. If you've always wanted to be on stage or screen when you were young, nothing should stop you now in your 50's or 60's. Just go ahead and do it! Life may surprise you!