Monday, February 19, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of Theatre Out Of Bounds' production of The Flick at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Theatre Out Of Bounds' production of The Flick at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Flick 
Written by Annie Baker
Directed by Scott Johnston
Stage Manager: Natalie Dzienius
Technical Director: Kevin Bertschi
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 2/10/18

The Flick debuted Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons on March 12. 2013 closing on April 7, 2013. After it won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, it was remounted at the Barrow Street Theatre and played there from May 18, 2015, to its closing on January 10, 2016. The Pulitzer Prize committee stated the play is a "thoughtful drama with well-crafted characters." It is set in a run-down movie palace called The Flick and features three movie ushers, Avery, Sam, and Rose (who also runs the film projector), who do the tedious work necessary to keep the theatre running. Sam and Rose are long-time employees while Avery is just passing through. Annie Baker was also awarded the 2013 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the 2013 Obie Award for Playwriting for this unusual offering that gives the audience a glimpse into the lives, morality, and loyalties of individuals who they might not ordinarily encounter. In this Theatre Out Of Bounds production of The Flick, the audience is seated on the stage facing the empty seats where all the action of the play takes place. Theatre Out Of Bounds is dedicated to the craft and creation of quality theatrical productions with a focus on edgy, thought-provoking, and relevant conversations.

Sam, who is 35 years old, has worked at The Flick for many years and lives with his parents. He is secretly in love with Rose, who runs the projector and resents the fact she was promoted over him even though he worked there longer. Because Rose has never shown an interest in him, Sam tells Avery, the new employee he is training, that Rose is a lesbian (Not unlike a woman calling a man gay if he rejects her sexual advances). Avery is taking a semester off from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts where he is getting "a free ride" due to his father being a professor there. Rose, on the other hand, has $20,000.00 in student loans. Avery is a shy, lying, depressed young man who would rather watch movies than engage in social interactions. His mother moved to Atlanta a year and a half ago after having reconnected with an old lover from High School on Facebook. He subsequently tried to commit suicide by swallowing a lot of pins and speaks to his therapist regularly. He has serious trust issues and comes across as a bit naive. When Avery confronts Rose about her being a lesbian, she denies it but confesses she's "been with girls a couple of times" but isn't gay. Rose shows an interest in Avery, which makes Sam jealous, and even teaches him how to use the projector, which is something Sam has wanted for a long time. The three workers make $8.25 an hour. Sam and Rose are taking 10% of the ticket stubs and re-selling them distributing the extra proceeds as "Dinner Money." Avery initially refuses to go along with the embezzlement but eventually agrees.

Theatre Out of Bounds promises the work they produce will be thought-provoking and will involve relevant conversations. That is certainly the case with The Flick. Some of the action in this play takes on new meaning given the current #MeToo movement. Rose, an older woman, tries to seduce Avery by engaging in sexually aggressive and inappropriate behavior. Avery rejects her advances and she responds to his rejection saying, "I feel like a fucking idiot now," which prompts him to apologize to her. Not finished with her predatory behavior, she slides up to him while they are watching a movie together and begins giving him "a hand job." Avery is disturbed and totally traumatized by this experience. She recognizes his reaction, stops, and apologizes saying, "I just went for it and you didn't give me the vibe." Given Avery's negative reaction, Rose actually gets angry at her victim saying, "I feel like I molested you or something." Good observation! I joked to those around me in the audience that Rose would not be coming back because she had been arrested for sexual assault and will be spending the next five years in prison. Avery blames himself and apologizes to Rose saying, "I felt I'd just be rather watching a movie." Rose then reveals how "fucked up" she is and how after four months in any relationship, she turns into a dead fish and then fakes it until they break up. Not exactly relevant to her molesting Avery without his consent but I guess she was trying to identify with him by confessing that she has problems too. Avery proceeds to lie to Sam regarding what took place but their friendship is severely damaged as a result of Avery being promoted to Assistant Projectionist and because he shared with Rose the fact that Sam had a retarded brother who was marrying someone similarly situated. Resentful of the lavish ceremony his parents provided for his brother and disappointed with the progress of his own life, Sam says, "The only really happy people here are retards. All the rest are just miserable fucks." 

The Flick movie theatre is sold and becomes The Venue. It goes fully digital and the old staff is kept on but the new owner discovers the embezzlement and, because of a letter in the strongbox, believes Avery is responsible. He asks Rose and Sam to explain the situation and how it was "a tradition" that the workers were doing this but they refused, hanging him out to dry.  Avery is depressed and reflects on the fact that "the truth is you can't trust anybody" and "you shouldn't expect anything or for things to turn out well in the end." He reflects on the fact that the world has disappointed him and that everyone is acting as if they were in a sitcom." Woken up a bit more as a result of these experiences, Avery intends to return to school. Sam and Rose, on the other hand, eventually hook up, and life goes on.

The Flick features an extraordinarily talented cast. Joe Rubino shines as Sam, who may have a hidden desire to be a chef, but finds himself stuck in this low-paying job. He does a fine job portraying a man trapped by his circumstances but trying to find a little happiness where and when he can. Rosbel Franklin succeeds in making Avery a sympathetic character even though he can lie, be untrustworthy, and be non-reciprocal with friends just like everyone else. He describes himself as shitphobic because "other people's shit makes me feel like I want to puke." Callan McDermott brings Rose to life in all her erratic, frazzled, confused daily existence. She made Rose into a convincing sexual predator who may have reasons for her behavior even though those reasons don't excuse her conduct. Finally, John Dzienius makes a stellar appearance as Skylar, the new employee who replaces Avery. He has a strong stage presence and I very much enjoyed his performance. His character's desire to "kiss" the projector appeared to open a new chapter in the continuing soap opera of not only the lives of the workers at The Venue but also of our own lives, with new scenes being written every day! 

Theatre Out Of Bounds will be producing Bug by Tracy Letts (May 18-20) and Hedwig And The Angry Inch by Stephen Trask & John Cameron Mitchell (July 13-21) at Studio Theatre Long Island. For artist inquiries, submission, and other information, you can e-mail TheatreOutOfBounds@gmail.com

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of A New Brain at The Gallery Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of A New Brain at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A New Brain
Music & Lyrics by William Finn
Book by William Finn & James Lapine
Director & Choreographer: Barrie Gelles
Assistant Choreographer: Adrian Rifat
Director of Production: Scott A. Cally
Music Director: Yi-Hsuan Chi
Production Stage Manager: Dominic Cuskern
Lighting Designer: Scott A. Cally
Costume Designer: Hayley Zimmerman
Set Designer: Jason Pointek
Props Designer: Gabrielle Giacomo
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 2/11/18

A New Brain is a musical written by William Finn shortly after his having successfully undergone surgery to repair an arteriovenous malformation. It contains too many songs (32 numbers), too many scenes, and a particularly unlikeable, neurotic, sarcastic, disagreeable main character. That character, Gordon Michael Schwinn (Jesse Manocherian), is given a second lease on life and says I feel "so much spring within me" but the truth is he is still the same miserable person he always was. He recognizes this at some point and says, "I'm still the same as I was. I still complain. I hope I'm different." But he isn't. His mother, Mimi Schwinn (Anette Michelle Sanders) threw out his books while cleaning his apartment, and when he happened upon them being sold by a Homeless Lady (Laura Cetti) for $2.00 each, instead of being happy he found his books, which held great sentimental value for him, he refused to pay her saying, "I'm not paying for my own books." This gives you an example of what a cheap creep this guy is so the audience doesn't particularly celebrate when he's given the opportunity to continue writing more songs. 

The cast is extremely talented. Anette Michelle Sanders (Mimi) sings a moving rendition of "The Music Still Plays On" and Laura Cetti (Homeless Lady) is equally impressive singing "Change." Samantha Schiffman is very charismatic as the Waitress who reminds us "Calamari" is not a fish even though it is listed as The Fish of the Day on the menu. The standout performer in the show is Jim Roumeles, who is Mr. Bungee, the director, producer, and star of his own children's television show, for whom Gordon writes mediocre songs such as "Frogs Have So Much Spring." I was particularly taken with Mr. Roumeles' frog costume, dance moves, and all the numbers he sang. The big production numbers, which included "Heart & Music," "Time," and "I Feel So Much Spring" were well-produced but there wasn't a song out of the 32 that, upon first hearing, made me say to myself, "I would sure like to buy the CD to hear that number again." That being said, I am certain there are a few gems in there you might like.

A New Brain was first produced Off-Broadway in 1998 at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The musical was also presented, after multiple rewrites by Finn and Lapine, as part of the Encores! Off-Center stages concert series at the New York City Center in 2015. The show can now be seen at The Gallery Players through February 18, 2018. Tickets are $25.00 for Adults; $20.00 for Children 12 and under and Senior Citizens. You can purchase them by visiting www.galleryplayers.com or by calling OvationTix at 212-352-3101. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Mel Schwartz Sleeps With Mae West at The Cutting Room by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Mel Schwartz Sleeps With Mae West at The Cutting Room was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Mel Schwartz Sleeps With Mae West
Book, Music & Lyrics by Ginger Reiter
Music Arrangements by Ike Reeves
The Cutting Room 
44 East 32nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 12/28/17

Mel Schwartz Sleeps With Mae West takes place over the course of a single night in North Miami Beach, Florida in 1986. Mel Schwartz (Jef Canter), who is not Jewish, wears a wig and has an enormous penile implant. He is trying to convince Marla, the "skinny little boney-assed whore from Philadelphia" whose rent he pays, to visit him for a booty call on an off-night outside of his scheduled appointments. When she turns him down, he calls his two friends, Lester (Tony Rossi) and Milty (David R. Gordon) to see if they can set him up or be his wingman at bars. These three friends, who regularly meet for breakfast at Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House Restaurant on Collins Avenue in Sunny Isles Beach, are past their prime. Milty is still married to a controlling, jealous wife named Ruthy (Danielle Nichole), who listens in on his calls and dominates his life, even to the point of having thrown his illegitimate son Mark out of their home 20 years ago. Lester, who has many prior marriages, eventually tries to set up his ex-wife Liz (Sheba Mason) with Mel. Fearing her Sugar Daddy may cut off her funds, Marla changes her mind and drops by Mel's apartment but Mel is no longer interested because he thinks he has a chance to hook up with Liz. When Liz eventually discovers her ex-husband is trying to set her up with Mel Schwartz instead of Mel Schneider, her reaction is so bad, Mel decides to commit suicide after watching The Tonight Show one last time.

Mel, now depressed, forgets the first rule of prostitution, which is that you are not just paying for sex but for unconditional acceptance. He gets into dangerous territory when he asks Marla for her honest opinion of him. In return, Mel gives Marla enough money to pay her rent for a year. Marla confesses she thinks Mel is "disgusting, slobbery, and old" and sometimes even "repulsive" but on the plus side, Marla told him he has a really nice nose and a good penile implant compared to the others she has seen in South Florida. She also said, "You're a Democrat - that's a really nice thing." Since Mel has no interest in sleeping with her anymore, Marla confesses she is seeing a therapist regarding why she feels more beautiful when she's in bed with ugly men. Other confessions follow until, at one point, Marla recognizes Ruthie's voice on the telephone. Many questions are raised including how Ruthie would have come to know a prostitute from Philadelphia and how Mel could have been so oblivious for the past five years. Eventually, push comes to shove and a lot of people are threatening to kill other people. At that point, there are only two available paths - tell your story on The Jerry Springer Show or sweep your dirty laundry under the rug and never speak of it again. 

This musical has a number of songs that are very well-written and enjoyable to listen to. First Act songs included "A Good Night's Sleep," "Boney-Assed Whore," "Get Out!," "Loved You At The Salad Bar," "Shattered Ego," and "Song Of Bigots." Second Act songs included "Shtupping Your Daughter," "Big Boy," "What's Wrong With Me," "Like Climbing Uphill," "Call It Love," "Dirty Shame," and "Shake It Off." Even though the show is set in 1986, the book is relevant and touches on contemporary issues. The cast is talented and the play even has a happy ending. Just before Mel pulls the trigger, his ex-wife Jeanie (Ginger Reiter) calls looking for her own "no-strings-attached" one-night stand. Jeanie, who just left a costume party dressed as Mae West boosts Mel's self-confidence by reminding him that his kids adore him, that he once saved a family of four ice-skaters, and that she misses having his hairy arms wrapped around her. Reconciliation is impossible through since Mel is reminded by his ex-wife that he is a dirty, untrustworthy, philandering dog, which he is forced to admit.

If you are looking for a light-hearted, amusing musical, I recommend you consider seeing Mel Schwartz Meets Mae West, which plays at The Cutting Room through December 30, 2017. Tickets cost $50.00 and there is a $20.00 food and drink minimum. Call 845-598-2850 for reservations. If you miss it this year, I hear the show may be back for an extended run in the Spring. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of It Shoulda Been You at The Gallery Players by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of It Shoulda Been You at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

It Shoulda Been You
Book & Lyrics by Brian Hargrove
Music & Concept by Barbara Anselmi
Director: Mark Harborth
Director of Production: Scott A. Cally
Choreographer: Emily Clark
Music Director: Rachel T. Whorton
Production Stage Manager: Traci Bargen
Lighting Designer: Scott A. Cally
Costume Designer: Antonio Consuegra
Scenic Design: Matthew S. Crane
Props Designer: Roxanne Goodby
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 12/3/17

This farce, with book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove and music and concept by Barbara Anselmi, was one big laugh riot from beginning to end. What seemingly starts out to be tensions revolving around the wedding of a single couple evolves into a romantic triangle involving three couples! And you are constantly surprised because you have no idea where the story is heading. In the end, the contradictions and dilemmas climax in a happy, romantic resolution for all three couples and their loved ones.

The endearing, emotional exuberance in It Shoulda Been You warms your heart and makes you glad to be alive to enjoy it. It is light-hearted, gracious, and enjoyable without being offensive. The story does use stereotypes to generate some of the humor but those jokes are smoothly integrated so they are part of the back story. I cannot single out any particular actor because I thought the entire cast was superb. Mark Harborth, the director, deserves credit for having brought out the best performances possible. The scenic design by Matthew S. Crane was impressive and made you believe you were in the midst of a glamorous location. Emily Clark's choreography was fresh and fun to watch. 

Once again, The Gallery Players has produced another top-notch production that is a must see! Tickets are $25.00 for adults, and $20.00 for Seniors and Children 12 and under. For more information and for reservations, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.galleryplayers.com

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of It Shoulda Been You at The Gallery Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of It Shoulda Been You at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

It Shoulda Been You
Book & Lyrics by Brian Hargrove
Music & Concept by Barbara Anselmi
Director: Mark Harborth
Director of Production: Scott A. Cally
Choreographer: Emily Clark
Music Director: Rachel T. Whorton
Production Stage Manager: Traci Bargen
Lighting Designer: Scott A. Cally
Costume Designer: Antonio Consuegra
Scenic Design: Matthew S. Crane
Props Designer: Roxanne Goodby
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 12/3/17

Even Albert (Joseph Peterson), the seasoned Wedding Planner who has seen everything before and anticipates all the needs of his clients, had to admit, "I didn't see that coming!" There are many surprises and reveals in It Shoulda Been You, performed to perfection in this hilarious production at The Gallery Players. The fun starts even before the show begins as Sam Laakso (who will later play a waiter and Uncle Mort) muddles through the pre-show announcements after having "lost his notes." This was a very clever and innovative way to get everyone in the mood to have a good time. Sam Laakso goes on to enjoy himself after his character, the Wedding Planner-in-Training, is successfully seduced by the sexually aggressive Aunt Sheila (Sonya Rice). It seems "the help" is on the menu as even Jenny Steinberg, the Co-Maid of Honor powerfully portrayed by Christine De Frece, grabs Sam's buns (without his permission) when she gets in a frisky mood. Since the wedding takes place in a hotel, this scenario harkens back to the days when maids and bellboys were expected to provide "extra services" for a tip.

The bride is Rebecca Steinberg (Elyse Beyer), a nice Jewish girl, who is getting married to Brian Howard (Robert Mueller), a Christian who comes from a family of significant means, even though he doesn't necessarily have access to it. Cultural differences and conflicts abound, especially between the two mothers. Judy Steinberg, the Jewish Mother impressively played by Luisa Boyaggi, is particularly strong and has some of the funniest lines in the play. Georgette Howard, the alcoholic Christian mother committed to being the only woman in her son's life until after her death, is convincingly portrayed by Lorinne Lampert. The hapless husbands are Murray Steinberg (Dave Konig), who got a good deal on the hotel, and George Howard (Francis Heaney), who tries to get his son Brian to get his wife-to-be to sign a prenuptial agreement on the day of the wedding. Rebecca's maids of honor are her sister, Jenny, and her very special friend, Annie Sheps (Rachel Gubow), who, unfortunately, is also not Jewish. Brian's best man is Greg Madison, enthusiastically played by Justin Liebergen, and one of two young men who get the opportunity to show off their body on stage by parading around in their underwear. Two unexpected and unanticipated guests include Marty Kaufman (Josh Kolb), who the Steinberg family wish Rebecca was marrying instead of Brian, and a little package of joy, which partially explains why Rebecca has decided to marry Brian in the first place.

The set and the costumes were impressive and perfect for this play. The musical numbers were well-performed and the direction was spot-on, with one exception. When Greg and Annie sing "Love You Till The Day" (lyrics by Ernie Lijoi) in lieu of a toast to the bride and groom, in my opinion, it works better if Annie directs the line, "I'll love you til the day you die" to Brian, and Greg directs it to Rebecca. But I recognize this is a directorial decision and it works fine just the way it is. There are many enjoyable musical numbers in It Shoulda Been You, including "This Day," "Nice," "Where Did I Go Wrong," "Whatever," and "A Little Bit Less Than." Maybe, in the end, you will learn that life and marriage is not the perfect happily-ever-after scenario depicted in old movies but the imperfect can still be quite good. For example, even if Marty loses his pants at the wrong moment, you still get to enjoy the show.  

I strongly recommend you see It Shoulda Been You at The Gallery Players. It plays there through December 17, 2017.  Tickets are $25.00 for adults, and $20.00 for seniors and children 12 and under. For more information and for reservations, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.galleryplayers.com 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Theatre By The Bay's production of Little Shop Of Horrors at Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Theatre By The Bay's production of Little Shop Of Horrors at the Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Little Shop Of Horrors
Book & Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Director: Cathy Chimenti
Choreographer: Jenifer Badamo
Musical Director: Alan Baboff
Theatre By The Bay
Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center
13-00 209th Street
Bayside, New York 11360
Reviewed 11/19/17

I was in for a treat when I decided to see Little Shop Of Horrors at Theatre By The Bay. I ended up enjoying a Broadway quality experience in my own backyard for a fraction of the cost of traveling to Times Square. This musical is a homage to the cinematic science fiction movies of the 1950s that often featured stories of alien invasion. In Little Shop Of Horrors, this takes the form of Audrey II, a plant named for the woman Seymour worships from afar. It turns out the plant speaks English and becomes the star of Mushnik's Flower Shop at which both work. The actors sparkled in their roles. Billy Marengo was perfect as the hapless Seymour, the discoverer of Audrey II, the mysterious plant from outer space. Nicole Intravia played the dumb blonde perfectly. Eli Koenig epitomized Mushnik, the much put-upon but devious flower shop owner. Michael Chimenti personified Orin Scrivello, DDS, the dentist from hell. Fern Nash, Veronica Picone, John Canning, Fran Geier, and Olivia Klansky were equally good in their lesser, but still significant, roles.

Cathy Chimenti did a marvelous job directing that brought out the finest performances from the actors - both veterans and first-timers. I thought all the actors were perfectly cast for their roles. I especially liked the doo-wop girl trio - Menyon Harrell as Ronette, Chantel Nicole as Crystal, and Steffy Jolin as Chiffon. They played an enhanced role in this production without overshadowing the other actors. They sang in accord with the musical style of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Their harmonies enhanced the skid row atmosphere of the neighborhood where the action was taking place. The costume designs by Chery Manniello reinforced the feeling that you were back in the 1950s.

John Baratta, aided by John Palmieri, did a fine job on the set design while Lila Edelkind did a good job providing the props. The troupers could walk through the walls to symbolize a change of location, which made the play transition from one scene to another very smoothly. Their biggest challenge was to bring Audrey II, as a puppet, to life. Erik Fiebelkorn manipulated the puppet while Julian Maultsby supplied the voice. Glenn Rivano, Peter Accardi, and Peter Zhong skillfully handled the lighting to emphasize the characters and changes in time and locations. Jenifer Badamo did an excellent job as choreographer aided by Menyon Harrell and Chantel Nicole. Fred Lederman on drums, David Rose on bass, and Alan Baboff on piano, who also doubled as the Musical Director, together sounded as if they were a whole Broadway orchestra. Megan Materazo and Jacob Koch artfully handled the sound system so that it enhanced the quality of performance by actors and musicians alike.

Producer/Stage Manager Barbara Koenig, aided by Eli Koenig, Martha Stein, and Helene Schwartz coordinated so well to bring this production to life. In a way, this community production personified America as different ethnic and racial groups were well represented in the performance and behind the scenes. This observation was prompted by a comment my friend, Dr. Tom Stevens, President of the Beaux Arts Society, Inc., said to an actor he had previously reviewed on another occasion. Dr. Stevens mentioned the high quality and diversity of the actors we get to see perform on Long Island - New York City and suburbia. He explained there are a large number of professional actors performing in community theater who decided to pursue other careers to support their families, who, with luck and sacrifice, might have made it big.

We are fortunate to have a community theater of such fine quality in our neighborhood. For more information regarding future productions by Theatre By The Bay, call 718-428-6363 or visit www.theatrebythebayny.com 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Theatre By The Bay's production of Little Shop Of Horrors at Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Theatre By The Bay's production of Little Shop Of Horrors at the Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Little Shop Of Horrors
Book & Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Director: Cathy Chimenti
Choreographer: Jenifer Badamo
Musical Director: Alan Baboff
Theatre By The Bay
Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center
13-00 209th Street
Bayside, New York 11360
Reviewed 11/19/17

Little Shop Of Horrors had its world premiere Off-Off Broadway on May 6, 1982, at the Workshop of the Players' Art (WPA) Theatre where it ran through June 6, 1982. It opened Off-Broadway at the Orpheum Theatre in Manhattan's East Village on July 27, 1982, closing on November 1, 1987, after 2,209 performances. Since it was not produced on Broadway, the original production was ineligible for the 1982 Tony Awards. The musical was based on a 1960 black comedy entitled The Little Shop Of Horrors. A second movie was released in 1982 that closely followed the plot of the original musical. On October 2, 2003, Little Shop Of Horrors finally made its Broadway debut at Virginia Theatre but in light of the show's success in film and numerous regional productions, it was classified in the "Revival" category for the purposes of the 2003 Tony Awards. The production closed on August 22, 2004, after 40 previews and 372 regular performances.

The musical is set on Skid Row in New York City where, after a total eclipse of the sun, Seymour Krelborn, finds, and purchases, an odd-looking plant at the wholesale flower market that feeds on human blood and flesh. Seymour is secretly in love with Audrey and names the new plant Audrey II. Seymour is a hapless, unfortunate orphan, who was taken in by Mr. Mushnik, the owner of Mushnik's Flower Shop, a struggling business that starts to boom as Audrey II (a "strange and interesting plant") starts to grow and draw media attention and curious customers. However, the price of this new prosperity is the requirement that Seymour "feed" the plant. First, he fails to save Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., Audrey's abusive boyfriend, who Seymour chops up into digestible pieces. Second, he tells Mr. Mushnik, who suspects Seymour killed Audrey's boyfriend and wants him to speak to the police,  that he has hidden the flower shop's receipts in the plant, knowing that when he goes looking for them, he too will be consumed. Many financially lucrative offers start coming Seymour's way but when he learns Audrey would still love him even if he were poor, Seymour decides to end the human slaughter but before he has the chance to kill the plant, it lures Audrey in and eventually eats her too. Seymour shoots the plant, tries to poison it, and eventually climbs into it with a machete - only to be killed by the talking plant from outer space. Little Audrey II's start popping up throughout the country some with faces you may recognize. Whatever you do, don't feed the plant!

The music in this musical is in the style of early 1960s rock and roll, doo-wop, and early Motown. You might be familiar with "Skid Row (Downtown)," "Somewhere That's Green," and "Suddenly Seymour." Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., brilliantly played by Michael Chimenti, is a "Leader of the Pack" character (think Fonzie from Happy Days), who wears a leather jacket and rides a motorcycle. The three black street urchins, Ronnette (Menyon Harrell), Crystal (Chantel Nicole), and Chiffon (Steffy Jolin) are named after and are reminiscent of girl groups of the 1960s (They weren't in school because they were on the split shift. "We went to school until the 5th grade and then we split."). All three have powerful voices and appear to prosper along with Seymour by introducing to him those with business propositions to offer such as Mrs. Luce (Fern Nash) who wants to put Seymour on the cover of Life Magazine; Skip Snip (John Canning), from William Morris, who wants to book Seymour on a lecture tour; and Patrick Martin (Julian Maultsby), who wants to take clippings from Audrey II to license them out to businessmen throughout the world. Veronica Picone, Fran Geier, and Olivia Klansky were all strong members of the ensemble, and Eli Koenig hit just the right tone as the sour, abusive, Mushnik, who adopted Seymour and made him a partner in the flower shop to ensure he wouldn't leave him for greener pastures. Special recognition needs to go to Julian Maultsby, the convincing voice of Audrey II, and to Eric Fiebelkorn, who sat under the puppet and brought Audrey II to life. Cathy Chimenti, the Director, deserves a lot of credit for making this production an unmitigated success. In my opinion, she did an amazing job and made the show thoroughly enjoyable.

Theatre By The Bay is a hidden gem that has been producing high-quality theater for many years. Concession prices are reasonable. The staff is friendly. Most importantly, the lead actors in almost all their productions are highly professional and just as good, if not better, than many of the actors who perform on Broadway. Two such actors in this production of Little Shop Of Horrors were  Nicole Intravia, who played Audrey, and Billy Marengo, who was Seymour. I recently saw Ms. Intravia play Emily Webb in Our Town at Studio Theatre Long Island and I can attest to the fact that she is an extremely talented, high-quality actress with an excellent voice. She never disappoints! Billy Marengo was simply brilliant as Seymour. Always perfectly in character, he impressed me with every line he spoke and each song he sang. I look forward to seeing more of this rising star. He and Nicole made the perfect couple to lead this production, making it one of the best revivals of Little Shop Of Horrors I have ever seen. 

I understand that the quality of community theater productions can vary widely. For that reason, I will make three recommendations. If you want to see consistent high-quality theater in Brooklyn, go to The Gallery Players in Park Slope. If you live closer to Suffolk County, I recommend Studio Theatre Long Island in Lindenhurst, and if you live in Queens, Theatre By The Bay will rarely let you down. For information on future productions, call 718-428-6363 or visit their website at www.theatrebythebayny.com 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Susan Gross' Ruby at The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios) by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Ruby at The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Ruby
Written & Performed by Susan Gross
Directed by Jake Lipman
Stage Managed by Angeline Nortz
Featuring Song "Hudson Ferry" by Clayton Colwell
The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios)
244 West 54th Street
New York, New York 10019
Reviewed 10/22/17

Susan Gross is amazing in Ruby, a solo show which explores the emotional and intellectual reactions a woman may have after losing a baby. Many people have miscarriages but nobody talks about it. This show explores the topic from the perspective of the would-be mother. Ruby opens with Susan Gross sitting alone in an upscale restaurant eating a $15.00 salad. She is being annoyed by a baby who won't stop crying and eventually asks the mother to take the baby outside. When the mother resists and tells her she will understand when she has a baby, Susan loses it and calls the mother an "asshole" acknowledging to the audience her recognition that she is a bitch. But the problem, we learn, is that Susan has just had a miscarriage, losing a baby at 10-weeks she intended to call Ruby. This was an emotionally traumatic experience for her and she is hypersensitive to things her friends and strangers say to her. For example, it drives her nuts when someone tells her that her unborn baby is now "in a better place." Statements, actions, and situations that never bothered her before now get on her nerves. She finds it difficult to sleep and recognizes she is having thoughts and feelings she never anticipated having, such as her reaction to that crying baby.

Susan's character has a very petite frame. If she eats a big breakfast, she may show in a way others may perceive as evidencing her being pregnant. People have commented on this so many times, she is thinking of having a tee shirt made that reads, "Not pregnant but I shouldn't have had that everything bagel with cream cheese." Some people are even more aggressive placing the palm of their hand on her stomach and saying, "Are we pregnant?" What she wants to say in such instances is, "Take your fucking hands off me!" reflecting the rage she feels within. Instead, she just says no but warns the audience they should never, under any circumstances, "comment on a woman's stomach." Another thing that really bothers her is when a friend may ask her, "Susan, why don't you have kids? You'd make a great mother." What is she supposed to say besides thanks? Is she supposed to go into detail and tell everyone how hard she has tried?

Women who have babies now annoy her. As she said, "My neighbor just had a baby so I hate her!" At night, when she hears that baby cry, she fantasizes she might be able to hold and comfort that baby better than her neighbor but at the same time, is concerned that if Ruby had been born, she may have inherited whatever genetic disorders she suffers from - such as scoliosis. She also hates women who appear to "push one out after every episode of Law & Order" and gets especially angry when a friend tells her, "You just have to wait and see what God has in store for you." Instead of waiting, she sometimes has thoughts of snatching someone else's baby after which she will say, "Yes, Jesus, I'm blessed. He's now mine!" Intellectually, she realizes she is not the only woman to have had a miscarriage but she shares with the audience that recognition hasn't helped her adjust to the reality of her situation. As she reflects on the future, she believes she may try again. For now, she has locked the door but hasn't put a deadlock on it. 

Susan Gross reflects that "we all struggle but we live and move along - we keep going" so for now, she is going to have "a glass of wine and look at the city" through her apartment window. I was extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to see the very talented Susan Gross perform this show - and I did so while having a glass of wine myself. For more information about Ruby and Susan Gross, go to www.nycsusan.com 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Valerie David's The Pink Hulk at The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios) by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Valerie David's The Pink Hulk at The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Pink Hulk
One Woman's Journey To Find The Superhero Within
Written & Performed by Valerie David
Directed by Padraic Lillis
Stage Managed by Angeline Nortz
The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios)
244 West 54th Street
New York, New York 10019
Reviewed 10/22/17

The Pink Hulk is Valerie David's autobiographical story about her journey to become a two-time cancer survivor. A serious, depressing topic, no doubt, but Valerie David retrospectively finds humor in the situation relaying her desperate struggle to get laid before she "loses the girls." In 1999, she beat Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Cancer free for 15 years, the experience gave her a "lust for life," which contributed to her ignoring a 3-month-old lump she felt in her breast. Encouraged by her friends, she went for a mammogram in 2014 only to learn she had breast cancer and would require a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation. She faces friends who distance themselves from her, extreme loneliness (especially since she no longer had a boyfriend), and eventually comes to a point where she made a commitment to herself to go through this latest challenge stronger than she did the last time and on her own terms.

The funniest part of this one-woman show is when she describes the many men she contacted trying to get them to sleep with her prior to her going in for surgery. Her blunt honesty turned off a number of men and others she was attracted to, unfortunately, played for the other team. Valerie David finally found solace performing improv with the Cronuts at the Peoples Improv Theater, which allowed her to transform herself into anyone but her. Still, the horrible and painful consequences of the chemotherapy and radiation could not be ignored even though the lumpectomy was a complete success. She lost all her hair, prematurely went into menopause, and gained 30 pounds. She decided not to harvest her eggs, so she had to additionally deal with the fact she was never going to have children. She describes how breast cancer was a direct attack on her status as a woman. As Valerie David put it, "The results of the cancer treatment damaged my self-confidence as a woman and destroyed my ability to feel attractive."

Two months after the last cancer treatment, she decided to train for and enter a bike marathon, which she viewed as an opportunity to show she had prevailed over this latest attack on her body. She summoned her strength and focused all the rage and anger she felt within (just like The Hulk) to finish the race, after which she proclaimed, "I beat you cancer! I won." Of course, there still remained her insecurity regarding her attractiveness but that was resolved by a campsite encounter with a younger man who told her her breasts were beautiful. Confidence restored, Valerie David, who has the talent of a Broadway star, decided to write this show to share her experiences and empower those facing adversity in life, as well as help people understand and empathize with what their friends diagnosed with cancer may be going through. 

The Pink Hulk began touring the country in 2016 and Valerie David began accumulating awards for this extraordinarily moving, candid, and insightful show. She was awarded the Queen's Medal For Valour by the SaraSolo Festival, and the Best Survivor Award in the Pittsburgh Fringe. I highly recommend you see this show when it comes to your city. The Pink Hulk is a 60-minute experience you will not soon forget. For more information, go to www.PinkHulkPlay.com 

Applause! Applause! Review of Lizzie Sider & Friends at The Triad Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Lizzie Sider & Friends at The Triad Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Lizzie Sider & Friends
Starring Lizzie Sider
Musical Director: Joe Vulpis
Keys & Vocals: Joe Vulpis
Acoustic Guitar: Jim Gateley
Cajon: Tyler Killer 
The Triad Theatre
158 West 72nd Street
New York, New York 10023
Reviewed 11/4/17

Lizzie Sider, a native Floridian who was born and raised in Boca Raton, was originally scheduled to perform at The Metropolitan Room but due to its closure in anticipation of re-opening at a new location, her show, Lizzie Sider & Friends, was hosted at The Triad Theatre. There was no cover charge and all monies collected or donated went to benefit Lizzie's Anti-Bullying Non-Profit Organization called Nobody Has The Power To Ruin Your Day, something said to her by her father when she was a young girl being bullied herself. Those who were lucky enough to be in attendance got the opportunity to see this wholesome, talented, charming, charismatic, 19-year-old rising star who is becoming increasingly well-known and already has a huge following worldwide. She sang an eclectic mix of songs including her debut single, "Butterfly" (written by Lizzie along with renowned artist and songwriter Jamie O'Neal, lyricist Lisa Drew, and Jimmy Murphy), which has received over one million views on YouTube. She was also named an "Artist To Watch" by Country Music Association's Close-Up Magazine and a "Top 5 Female Country Newcomer." She has appeared on Entertainment Tonight, Access HollywoodFox News, Crook & Chase, The Better Show, the Queen Latifah Show and Hallmark's Home & Family. Lizzie finished off the day performing at the 111th Annual Beaux Arts Ball held at Terrace On The Park, where she sang "Butterfly" and performed a duet with Charlie Romo, a local rising star out of Staten Island, who was recently named a Distinguished Artist of the Beaux Arts Society, a non-profit arts organization founded in1857.

Lizzie has personally taken her Bully Prevention School Assembly Tour to more than 500 schools throughout the country reaching over 250,000 students. Her latest project is an on-screen video adaptation of her live assembly that is offered to schools for free and stresses the importance of everyone standing up to stop bullying. To date, more than 5,000 schools, representing over 3,500,000 children from all fifty states and beyond, have requested the video package. Lizzie is committed to being a positive role model for kids and is proud to be a spokesperson for organizations such as PACER Teens Against Bullying, GWEN (Global Women's Empowerment Network) and Hatebreakers.org from whom she has received the "Peter Yarrow Hatebreaker Award" for her work in bully prevention. In her spare time, she has performed over 20 National Anthems at Major League sporting events (including for the Nashville Predators, Miami Marlins, Florida Panthers, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers & Boston Red Sox), and her second single release and music video, "I Love You That Much" (music and lyrics by Joe Vulpis), charted in the Top 40 on Nashville's Music Row Chart. Because of the immense connection she feels towards young children, Lizzie has performed at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House, and the Children's Hospital Los Angeles. In Nashville, she has performed at the famous Bluebird Cafe, Hard Rock Cafe, Bridgestone Arena, and City Winery.

Original songs and covers were featured during her extremely entertaining show. Joe Vulpis, her musical director, provided backup vocals and even performed himself during a costume change break. Lizzie Sider can sing in a variety of different styles and carried each off without a hitch. If you catch one of her shows, you will hear everything from Ain't No Sunshine to Walking After Midnight. She even added a medley of Carole King songs. Her love of country-western music came from spending her summers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Besides being a singer/songwriter, Lizzie Sider is also an actress and dancer. During the 2015 Summer Season at the Jackson Hole Playhouse, she played Martha in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, and most recently, she closed out the 2016 Summer Season as Cat Ballou in the original musical adaptation of The Ballad Of Cat Ballou. Also in 2016, her original song, "Summer Love Song," also performed in this show, was featured as the opening track of the Hallmark Original Movie, A Time To Dance, starring Jennie Garth and Corbin Bernsen.

Lizzie Sider was impeccably dressed and fed off the positive energy of the audience in this sold-out show. She utilized the small stage to great effect moving around on it and off it when appropriate. She played the guitar and the piano and sang solo and duets with Joe Vulpis, her supportive long-time musical director. Lizzie brought positive energy and an optimistic attitude into the room leaving everyone with a smile on their face and the belief that even you may be able to spread your little butterfly wings to achieve your own dreams. She reminded everyone that "we are all so beautiful and confident at our core." Never give anyone the power to ruin your day! To see where Lizzie Sider is performing next, visit her website at www.LizzieSider.com. For more information or to donate to her Anti-Bulling Charity, visit www.NobodyHasThePowerToRuinYourDay.org.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Schoenberg Spotlight Review of Murder On The Orient Express by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Murder On The Orient Express was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in the online edition of The Schoenberg Spotlight.

Murder On The Orient Express
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay by Michael Green
Music by Patrick Doyle
Cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos
Edited by Mick Audsley
Release Date - 11/10/17 (United States)
Reviewed 11/10/17

On opening day, I watched the latest cinematic version of Murder On The Orient Express. I viewed the movie only to discover I liked the movie trailers better than the film itself. The only part of the picture I liked was the cinematic portrayal of the train in all its glory leaving Istanbul and speeding through the countryside. I asked myself why I was disappointed with the current motion picture. 

First, I ruled out that occupations and nationalities of some of the characters had been changed to reflect the more multicultural nature of the audience. Leslie Odom's logical connection to the Armstrong family was well-explained although he is an African doctor who was not original to the novel.

Rather, there was a major change of the interplay between the characters. Hercule Poirot lacked the doctor and director of the Orient Express railroad company at his side where he had interplay with them as he investigated the case and explained some of his findings. As a result, there was no tension as he interrogated his suspects.

The 2017 celluloid had as almost a distinguished cast as the 1974 film but alas their performances were not as convincing as their counterparts a generation earlier. The 2017 crew gave wooden performances in which you did not quite believe who they were in contrast to the 1974 actors who really gave smashing performances. Although Kenneth Branagh's version of the Belgian detective spoke a more understandable English and had a better mustache in the 2017 picture. Albert Finney gave the more credible performance in 1974. I felt that the 1974 cast of well-known international actors such as Ingrid Bergman and Sean Connery were far more believable than the 2017 roster of superstars headed by Johnny Depp and Judi Dench. I also felt that Sidney Lumet in 1974 had a better version of how to do the novel as a movie than Kenneth Branagh did in 2017. 

I am not going to give away the ending but the 2017 resolution was different than that in the 1974 movie and Agatha Christie's novel. The 2017 ending simply does not work. You don't feel justice has been served or that the moral sensibility of Hercule Poirot has been satisfied. Although Roslyn Sulcus in her New York Times review praised the epic, she did write that English critics felt quite different from their counterparts in America. "Despite its credentials - and impeccable styling -  this Orient Express never gets up a head of steam," Robbie Collin wrote in The Telegraph, adding, "a shade more playfulness would have gone a long way."

In short, you believed you were traveling on the Orient Express in the 1974 movie but not in the 2017 film. You simply aren't able to suspend your disbelief that you were on a train in the current version. In the end, I felt the 2017 Murder On The Orient Express was not worth watching.

Applause! Applause! Review of Valerie David's The Pink Hulk at The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios) by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Valerie David's The Pink Hulk at The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios) was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Pink Hulk
Written & Performed by Valerie David
Directed by Padraic Lillis
The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios)
244 West 54th Street
New York, New York 10019
Reviewed 10/24/17

Valerie David performed her frank, direct, and vibrant one-woman show excellently. As she discussed her path to beating a second bout of cancer, we are reminded of the major milestones of life and the importance of forging strong personal relationships. Unfortunately, in Valerie David's case, some of those relationships dissolved while others were strengthened as she transformed from a frightened, though defiant woman struck by cancer, into a strong, determined fighter who feeds off her anger like a "Pink Hulk."

Through a loose connection to Mark Ruffalo, the current Marvel green man, David gained strength to fight with her anger at having been struck with this deadly affliction a second time. She talks about the disruption that cancer caused, the damage it did to her physically and how it altered her life. When she once had a promising career as an actress and friends she thought were there for her, things changed drastically after the onset of cancer. Her career and friendships took an entirely different route. The physical parts were stark and real. The pain and loneliness were understandably striking and uncomfortable. Her story will move and inspire you.

What resonated the most was her intense drive and desire to participate in a bike marathon even though her body was still suffering from the effect of her "cure." She made the decision to race as an "FU" to the pain and weight gain that came with the disease for her. She was determined to handle things better the second time around, and she definitely did. That moment when she crossed the finish line was a victory for her and for cancer patients everywhere. The courage it took was a testament to the strength of an individual.

Her vulnerability and ability to share and communicate clearly the worries of love and life associated with her struggles made this one-woman show a worthwhile venture. I would recommend it to anyone but especially to women. A large part of the show does seem to be more relevant to the opposite gender, but the struggle to become a cancer survivor is something all people can relate to. If you want to see how someone successfully transforms tragedy into metamorphosis, this is the perfect opportunity.