Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of At The Flash at Under St. Mark's Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of At The Flash at Under St. Mark's Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

At The Flash
Written by Sean Chandler & David Leeper
Performed by David Leeper
Directed by David Zak
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 8/19/16

Originally produced by Pride Films & Plays in Chicago, Illinois on November 17, 2012, At The Flash had its world premiere at the Center on Halsted's Hooper-Leppen Theatre. Its West Coast premiere in Los Angeles was at the Celebration Theatre and then Quince Productions brought At The Flash to Philadelphia to be part of GayFest! The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival then made arrangements for this one-man, one-act show to have its international debut at the Out-House Theater in Dublin, Ireland. Vermont Pride Theater then hosted this production followed by an invitation from the Conejo Valley Universalist Fellowship for a one-night outreach event. 

At The Flash is now being performed as part of the 2016 New York International Film Festival. It takes place in an imaginary gay bar called The Flash that is re-opening as an upscale restaurant and bar. David Leeper, the sole performer who co-wrote this play with his husband Sean Chandler, introduces us to five characters who frequented the bar: Richard (1965), Miss Sparkle (1978), Derrick (1989), Mona (1996), and Rod (Current Day), who is the prime mover behind the renovation. Rod is happily married to a man, has adopted a beautiful child, and is a successful businessman, all things his father told him faggots could never look forward to. Now, on the opening night of The Flash, as Rod handles all the last minute problems that always arise in such situations, he learns his father and mother have decided not to attend, causing him emotional pain and suffering. Perhaps some things never change!

With only pantomimed props and no costume changes, David Leeper successfully introduces us to five unique individuals who hung out at the bar over the decades. Each character is presented as having a unique persona and you get the feeling you've met each of them. That is probably because you have, in one form or another. David Leeper's extraordinary talent is on display not only when embodies each individual character, but also when he rapidly cycles through all the characters in quick succession during one extraordinary monolgue near the end of the show. For much of the 20th Century, gay bars were the unofficial "centers" of the G.L.B.T. community - a place where you could be yourself and feel at home. It is where organizing occurred and was one of the only places you could go to meet others with whom you had this particular peculiarity in common. The play moves back and forth among the characters, in no particular order, but enough time is spent with them so we understand where each is coming from.  

Richard (1965) is a naive, macho, closeted gay man who is married with kids. He curses a friend (who he calls "a pansy ass fucker") for introducing him to gay sex and hates the fact he has urges to be with other men. He risks his job and losing his family by going to The Flash, a place that could be raided by the police at any moment. Shy, hesitant and paranoid, we see Richard meet his first Drag Queen in the men's room and be approached to support The Mattachine Society. He almost has a heart attack when he misplaces his wallet. When he is ultimately arrested by the police, he first claims he was only there to use the bathroom but when he sees the police beat the patrons, he says, "What are you doing? They are not doing anything wrong. We're not doing anything wrong!"

Miss Sparkle (1978) is a colorful, Southern, African-American Drag Queen, who mentors newcomers and performs at the club. The Flash is her home and she takes her work very seriously. When she was young, an older Drag Queen took the time to guide her and now she is doing the same in turn. She explains to a young Drag Queen that "you dress up for yourself and for all the other eyelash heavy bitches - so we can judge you - with love!" Miss Sparkle has had a hard life. She witnessed Miss Shindig being beaten up in a bathroom in Las Vegas and now she is quite ferocious. She explains that "when you fuck with a Queen, you get her scepter right up your ass!" She reminds club patrons to "Mix & Mingle so you don't go home single."

Derrick (1989) is an effeminate acting, alcoholic, club kid recovering from a breakup and worrying what the result of his A.I.D.S. test will be. He is trying to get a friend to go with him to the doctor when he gets the result but hasn't been able to find anyone yet. He is scared and frightened but is on automatic when it comes to looking for a new boyfriend. Emotionally distraught, he says, "As if finding a boyfriend isn't bad enough, now we have to hope we live through it." Derrick uses drugs, drinks, and dancing in a futile attempt to escape his fear and anxiety.

Mona (1996) is trying to get people to sign her petition opposing The Defense Of Marriage Act (D.O.M.A.). She is a schoolteacher who admits to being "a true died in the flannel lesbian" who never dated a boy. Mona lived with a girlfriend who got sick and died. She is still angry the hospital staff would not let her in the room and that she had to watch her girlfriend die alone from the other side of a glass partition. Mona is now an activist. She said, "I don't want to be one of those people that just allows things to shape their lives without paying attention and doing something about it."

Rod (Current Day) sees himself as a success in business and love. His newly renovated restaurant will feature Japanese cuisine infused with soul food. The mainstream press and many political leaders plan to be in attendance. While opening night will offer customers a buffet and an open bar, drinks will cost $15.00 each thereafter. He is forced to deal with an insecure cook and the fact that his liquor distributor got his order wrong. As he says to him over the phone, "I ordered eight cases of vodka and two cases of scotch and what I received was eight cases of scotch and 2 cases of vodka. This is a gay bar, not an English Gentlemen's Club." When Rod's father tells him he is not coming to the opening and hopes he understands, he responds, "No, I don't understand but I guess I'll have to accept it." and then adds, "Does that sound familiar?"

David Leeper gives each of his characters a distinctive voice bringing them to life right before your eyes. He uses no visual aids. We see characters drink imaginary beers, stir unseen cocktails and apply non-existent makeup but given the unique manner in which he carries himself when playing each character, we have no doubt who we are watching at any one time. While the people we meet are specific, they represent easily recognizable, universal archetypes of individuals you may have met in a gay bar sometime during the past five decades. These characters are used to make a larger point, which is that when you have been rejected by family and friends because of your discovered or revealed deviance, the only place left to call home is where other people with similar predilections also congregate, and that has traditionally been a gay bar. If you are black and discriminated against because of that fact, you still have other black people and your family to provide you with encouragement and support. Not so for gay people. If you are too frightened to be seen in a gay bar, you might be forced into parks or bathrooms to meet others for anonymous sex. But if you do find a bar you can call home, you will probably develop a strong attachment to it, and "just for a flash," you will be happy!

At The Flash introduces you to a slice of gay history that may be well-known to those who went to gay bars over the years but for those who avoided gay bars for fear of being seen in one, this play will introduce them to a few people they probably should meet. In the present day, it is considered cool for straight couples to go to gay bars and drag shows. In addition, many of the bartenders in gay bars are now straight and there are fewer and fewer hustlers working out of them. It is a whole new world! Gay marriage is universally permitted in the United States. There is no fear of police raids. Same-sex couples dance together in public! Who could have predicted it all would have happened so soon! At The Flash gives you a glimpse into gay history when gay bars were one of the very few places those who were different could call home. Whether you see this play or not, I strongly suggest you take home its message to "be proud of who you are" and "don't let no one tell you otherwise!" Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at http://www.FringeNYC.org 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of The Fucking Problem at Under St. Mark's Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Fucking Problem at Under St. Mark's Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Fucking Problem
A New Play by Emily Lucia Alexander & Nate Dobson
Performed by Emily Lucia Alexander & Nate Dobson
Directed by Jessica O'Hara Baker
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 8/19/16

We hear the moans and primal passion sounds of two people having sex and later learn they are actors filming a pornographic movie forced to take a break and return to their respective dressing rooms when Brando, the male star, accidentally ejaculated in his female partner's eye ruining one of her artificial eyelashes. While she reapplies her makeup, Brando eats a burrito. Both HE and SHE then speak directly to the audience in alternating monologues in which they talk about how they got into the porn industry, how they draw boundaries (including the use of "safe words"), and how they once dated and then broke up via Twitter. In fact, this shoot is their last film together since they have decided to go their separate ways. 

SHE was brought up by a feminist mom who didn't allow her to have traditional "girl toys" and who railed against how women were portrayed in the media. Eventually, she posed as a naked model and found she had no qualms performing sexual acts on camera. Since she was being featured on the Internet, she told her parents. Her mom disapproved of the objectification of women and the male fantasies catered to in the porn industry while her father hates what she does because it "ruined porn" for him. She likes feeling pretty and understands she is "selling a product and promoting a brand." She told the audience "the best sex comes through communication." In her case, she communicates through "purrs, growls, and squeals."

HE admits he has an unusual look for a porn star but is full of cockiness and self-confidence. He taught himself to "cum on command." Being an exhibitionist, he invited guests to watch him masturbate as they counted down from 30 - and then, fireworks! As he said, "It's called the 'money shot' for a reason. That's how I make my money!" There were a number of bad puns ("fucking awesome" - "fucking business") and a whole section during which he was trying to remember what he wanted to tell us about "burritos and butt-fucking" that I could have done without. There was a good line about how you can tell your relationship with a woman may be in trouble. He suggested something may be wrong "if you are in a girl, wrist deep, and start wondering whether she reads Dostoevsky or the logistics of how Trump intends to build his wall." While she complained he was moody and mean, at times, his response was that "no one is always fucking shiny."

Whatever you may have heard, there is no physical nudity in this show. In addition, the two actors don't share any scenes and never directly interact with one another. They are speaking to you sharing their stories and respective journeys. Emily Lucia Alexander and Nate Dobson, the writers and performers of this play, are charismatic and talented actors who, to my knowledge, never rented themselves out or made a porn film. However, both are extremely attractive and good-looking. If acting doesn't work out for them, I am certain any escort service would be pleased to hire them. The play is thought-provoking and intense because after we get to know these two characters, we learn the reason she broke up with him is because she perceived he once ignored her "safe word" and proceeded to have sex with her anyway. She didn't object at the time or report it to the police and said nothing about it to him continuing to live with him and have sex as if nothing had happened. Then weeks later, she tweeted she was breaking up with "Brando" (his porn name) because he forced himself on her, effectively calling him a rapist. He vigorously denied the charge. 

And there you have it! That's The Fucking Problem! Was she raped? If they were regularly having sex in a particular manner, why would she need to use her safe word, and if he ignored her safe word, why wouldn't she bring it up there and then? If the rape was violent and truly revealed an inner demon, shouldn't she have called the police and moved out immediately? Her argument was that she "went along to get along" so as not to trigger another rape. I find that justification implausible. Finally, she puts all this out on Twitter using his porn name instead of his real name. Seems like she was seeking revenge for something and trying to destroy his "Brando brand." These are some of the reasons why The Fucking Problem is compelling and demands your complete attention. Another layer of complexity is added when you consider he and she know absolutely every aspect of what the other likes and enjoys in bed. Perhaps he, who previously admitted the submissive "really calls all the shots" because of the "safe word," secretly fantasized breaking through that "stop sign" to allow himself the power for once. Maybe he wasn't even aware he made that choice and just lost himself in the moment. Who knows? But it will give you and your friends something to talk about over dinner after you have seen this play.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Fucking Problem and I encourage you to see it. Both actors do a fine job portraying their characters and I hope to see both of them in other roles in the months and years ahead. Nate Dobson and Emily Lucia Alexander, as playwrights and performers, are destined for success and recognition in the New York City theater community. The Fucking Problem is part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival and can be seen on Friday, August 26, 2016 at 3:15 p.m. at the Under St. Mark's Theater. Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at www.FringeNYC.org 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of The Radicalization Of Rolfe at The Players Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

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

The Radicalization Of Rolfe
Written by Andrew Bergh
Directed by Abigail Zealey Bess
The Players Theatre
115 MacDougal Street
New York, New York 10012
Reviewed 8/14/16

Fans of The Sound Of Music will particularly enjoy The Radicalization Of Rolfe, a new play featured as a part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival, which provides you with a behind-the-scenes look at what was happening at the same time your favorite characters were singing, frolicking and romancing on screen. Did you know that Herr Zeller, the ambitious local Nazi leader (Gauleiter), had recruited Franz, Baron von Trapp's butler, and Rolfe Gruber, Liesel's love interest, as spies to provide information regarding the Captain's whereabouts and any plans he may have had to flee Austria or to ignore his orders to report to Bremerhaven to accept a commission in the German Navy? Did you know that while Herr Zeller was encouraging Rolfe's relationship with Liesel (so he could learn more about what was being said in the von Trapp household), Rolfe was involved in a homosexual relationship with Johan, Frau Schmidt's nephew? Rolfe saw no future with Johan and tried to stay away even though Johan suggested they could use marriage as a cover for their activities "as men have done for centuries." Rolfe insisted he needed to be stronger and that their relationship had to end but he found himself going over to Johan's apartment more often and spending hours at the athletic club where he and the boys would meet for "a vigorous workout." Frau Schmidt, the von Trapp housekeeper, and Franz, the butler, had already "rescued" Johan once from a boy's school in Frankfurt but a change of location didn't seem to straighten the boy out. When Frau Schmidt found out Johan was on a list of Communists about to be arrested and sent to a work camp, she rushed over and gave him money to leave the country before the borders closed. She told him to call her when he was settled and said, "For the love of God, stay out of the Athletic Clubs!"

Some of the funniest moments of the play came when references were made to the underlying plot and or text of The Sound Of Music. For example, when Herr Zeller asked Rolfe how old Liesel was, he said, "16 going on 17" and when asked how old he was, Rolfe responded, "17 going on 18." When Rolfe asked for advice from Frau Schmidt, she said, "What do you want me to do, sing you a song? Climb your own mountain, dear." There was also ample reference to Maria Rainer, the postulant from Nonnberg Abbey, who eventually stole the heart of Captain Georg von Trapp and his children. This type of linkage should have been perfectly synced and extensively researched by the playwright, but there were many missed opportunities and mistakes made. Frau Schmidt, as the housekeeper, would never be serving anyone apple strudel and when Rolfe said he couldn't sew a pink triangle onto to his clothes, Herr Zeller could have said, "Of course you can, boy. It's just a needle pulling thread!" The more direct and indirect references made to The Sound Of Music (both play and movie), the more enjoyable I feel The Radicalization Of Rolfe can be. 

The star of the show is Dominic Comperatore, an extremely talented actor who plays Herr Zeller, an ambitious, hateful individual who doesn't care who he steps on so long as the end result is his advancement in the Nazi Party. In this play, Herr Zeller threatens and blackmails everyone and breaks his word more often than I can count. There was also no need for him to do so with respect to Rolfe, who was more than eager to be a good Nazi because it provided him with opportunities he wouldn't otherwise have. Herr Zeller had already successfully "groomed" Rolfe ("no one has taken an interest in me like that") and he would've done anything he asked. Yet even though Rolfe trusted him completely, Herr Zeller betrayed that trust by forcing him out of the singing competition and, in the end, threatened his life in order to obtain a little intelligence and Rolfe's complete obedience. True leaders do not have to stoop to that level to get their subordinates to be loyal to them. However, if they suspect their leader is not loyal to them and will throw them under the bus the first moment they become an inconvenience, they will not stand behind that leader. Jay Patterson fell short as Franz forgetting some of his lines and misspeaking more than once (the betrayal of a father by his son did not take place in the "Zeller family"). Although Polly Adams, who played Frau Schmidt, grew on me as the play went on, I think a stronger performer could have been found for the part. Linking up again with The Sound Of Music, Frau Schmidt makes Rolfe promise he will "take action to ensure the safety of the von Trapp family." Keeping that promise, losing his gun and delaying blowing the whistle, is what ultimately gets Rolfe in hot water. We also learn that the six nuns who sabotaged the cars were arrested and sent to work camps.

The highlight of the show was the depiction of the loving relationship between Rolfe and Johan. Logan Sutherland, a talented, charismatic actor with a strong stage presence, was perfectly cast as Rolfe Gruber, an innocent young boy trying to decide what is right as he seeks to make his way in the world. Alex J. Gould's natural acting style was well-suited for his portrayal of Johan, a more experienced young man who knew his way around an athletic club. Johan revealed to Rolfe a complete list of gay men he might know. Rolfe was totally amazed regarding who was on the list. Johan responded by telling him, "We're everywhere. All you have to do is look." (as he glances out into the audience of The Players Theatre) - Hilarious! Finally, Johan explained to Rolfe how to take the "bauchnabel" self-assessment test. Failing it might explain why Rolfe was still a virgin and why he ran away after kissing Liesel for the first time. It is at that moment that we hear Johan speak to Rolfe the following, fateful words, "You'll never be one of them!"

The Radicalization Of Rolfe leaves us with an observation revealing "the truth about work camps," which is that "you can be in them" or "you can run them." I guess that is an important life lesson and every person must, in the end, decide what they are willing to do and say in order to stay out of them. Would you spy on a neighbor? Would you blackmail a friend? Would you kill someone who was threatening your family? Or in the case of Rolfe, perhaps you would simply recite a list of names ending with - Johan Schmidt.

You won't regret seeing The Radicalization Of Rolfe. While it needs a little touching up, you will still have a very good time at this show, which plays on Sunday, August 21, 2016 at noon and on Wednesday, August 24, 2016 at 4:30 p.m. at The Players Theatre. Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at www.FringeNYC.org 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Pucker Up & Blow at The Players Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

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

Pucker Up & Blow
Written by Daniel Reitz
Directed by Paul Schnee
The Players Theatre
115 MacDougal Street
New York, New York 10012
Reviewed 8/14/16

What if you were not particularly talented or good-looking and had the opportunity to star in a Broadway show so long as you were willing to play a retarded, 16-year-old who appears to be anally raped on stage by a pedophile who your white-supremacist brother sold you to for $100,000.00 so he could buy guns to kill black people? ("selling my own brother's ass for white mankind") Would you take the part? Keep in mind you have no prior professional credits on your actor's resume except for having appeared in children's theater ("My Tigger was quite definitive"; "My Velveteen Rabbit earned me acclaim"). You have no agent and no manager. You got lucky because the playwright/director's wife saw you at a Samuel French Festival and recommended you to her husband. What would you do? Can you turn down such an opportunity even though it will require full-frontal nudity? What about your parents, younger sister and 82-year-old grandmother? When they come to the opening, how will they handle seeing you on stage naked having your chest hair fondled prior to you letting someone enter you through the back door? The temptation to accept the role would be very strong but your principles, if you have any, might leave you questioning whether taking the part would be right or wrong. What should you do when faced with such a dilemma? Well, Jiminy Cricket suggested one possibility. When speaking to Pinocchio, he said, "When you get in trouble and you don't know right from wrong. Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! When you meet temptation and the urge is very strong. Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! Not just a little squeak, pucker up and blow!" David, the lead character in Pucker Up & Blow, faces the situation I have described. In this play within a play, David is given the opportunity to join the cast by Robert Forsythe, an African-American, who has obtained fame as New York's "most inflammatory" playwright infamous for productions laced with "gratuitous nudity" and "simulated sex of all kinds." Intentional or not, Daniel Reitz's Forsythe character reminds me of playwright Thomas Bradshaw, who stages outrageous behavior on the New York stage, including depictions of child rape, racially charged sex, pornography, and modern day slavery.

We learn that this is not Robert Forsythe's first play. He recently had success with his controversial Rosa Parks Is A Nigger Cunt. It was about a teenage black girl who denied slavery ever existed and blew up a Civil Rights Museum (of course it doesn't make any sense but Forsythe freely admits he is "an artless, context-free writer"). In that play, an interracial couple has sex on Rosa Park's grave, and during the sex scene, the woman cries out to her black partner, "fill me good, you orangutan." Daniel Reitz's fictitious playwright/director is an African-American. Who else but a Black Playwright could get away with writing about this subject matter? Had he been white, instead of being celebrated by the likes of Tyler Perry, his shows would have been closed and universally condemned. Exposing the double-standard, Daniel Reitz makes an important point about political correctness "gone mad" in a delightfully "politically incorrect manner" in his latest show Pucker Up & Blow. It is an extremely well-written, thought-provoking play that is absolutely hilarious at times. I was very impressed with this show that is a part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival.

Will Dagger does a fine job playing David, the young actor cast for this challenging part. He portrays him as a whiny, little bitch who never fully embraces the part he agreed to play. He is jealous and insecure as he should be because he does look "a little down-syndromey." When his "girlfriend" cheats on him, he gets drunk and tries to hit her latest boyfriend, who happens to be his co-star in the play. He is out of his league, both before and after the show opens. At least Steve Stifler (The Stifmeister) of the American Pie movies knew what he needed to do and then did it in order to achieve his goal (i.e. to see two women making out). David continues to regret having taken the part right up to opening night. This actor, like all actors, can turn down any part they are uncomfortable with. However, if they accept the part, even if it includes nudity and simulated lewd sex acts, they owe it to their co-stars to fully commit to the role without hesitation. Anything less is doing a disservice to everyone. I credit Daniel Reitz, the playwright, for exposing that the "exploitation of actors" by asking them to engage in "degrading acts" is something that cannot and does not take place. Actors, as fully functioning, intelligent adults, decide what parts they will take and what parts they will turn down. The collaboration of like-minded playwrights, producers, directors, and actors will bring about a final product that will stand or fall on its own merit. Those who choose not to be a part of any particular production will find work elsewhere.

Alex Emanuel, a very talented actor, is "creepily effective" as Lenny, the pedophile. Lenny trains David by offering him double-stuffed Oreo cookies. He calls him his "tasty little tard." Shane Allen is very attractive and believable as Micah, the Sex Choreographer and Tantric Massage Therapist who is charged with making the sex scenes realistic. However, Daniel Reitz failed to allow those scenes to reach their full potential. So much more could have been done with them. I am imagining in my mind how hilarious they could have been especially, if as promised, Micah was in there naked with them at all times while he was walking them through the choreographed simulated sex acts. Too much time was spent reading the script. Sydni Beaudoin was "alluring" as Melora, David's manipulative, lying girlfriend. Ms. Beaudoin successfully portrayed her as the conniving, ambitious, back-stabbing cheater she was supposed to be. Her funniest line was when she planned to see David on stage for the first time and said, "Should I bring my binoculars - or can you project?" Jeremy Burnett was Kevin, the actor who was formally a very popular rap star known as Kryptonite. Mr. Burnett did a fine job as the rich "pussy hound" destined to share some of his "black magic" with the ladies. Asa James was aloof and self-confident as Robert Forsythe, the fictitious playwright, who knew what he wanted from his actors but barely found the time to direct, given his other obligations as a fundraiser and promoter. When David finally demanded to know how expressive Robert Forsythe wanted him to be during the "love-making scenes," he reminded David his character is "retarded, not brain dead!" When an aggressive female reporter started asking him about the "one-dimensional characters" and "lack of subtext" in his plays, he cuts her off and says, "Are you a lesbian? I think you are. I like lesbians - they're so challenging." Asa James handled all his scenes with aplomb and was the anchor who held this play together. 

Daniel Reitz is a playwright you should keep your eye on. He shows extraordinary promise and is willing to tackle subjects others wouldn't think of touching. I highly recommend Pucker Up & Blow. It takes you on a journey to the mountaintop and then shows you what is on the other side. In David's case, "it's an actor's life for me." There are two more shows, which you can see on Friday, August 19, 2016 at 4:30 p.m. and on Tuesday, August 23, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. at The Players Theatre. Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at http://www.fringenyc.org/ 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of BroadHollow Theatre Company's production of The Will Rogers Follies at Bayway Arts Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of BroadHollow Theatre Company's production of The Will Rogers Follies at Bayway Arts Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Will Rogers Follies
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Betty Comden & Adolph Green
Book by Peter Stone
Directed & Choreographed by Jessy Gill
Costume Design by Joseph Kassner
BroadHollow Theatre Company
at Bayway Arts Center
265 East Main Street
East Islip, New York 11730
Reviewed 8/13/16 

The Will Rogers Follies opened on Broadway on May 1, 1991 at the Palace Theatre and closed on September 5, 1993, after 981 performances and 33 previews. That production, directed and choreographed by Tommy Tune, won five Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Costume Design, and Best Lighting Design. It must have been a slow year! Significantly, Peter Stone did not win the Tony Award for Best Book. The story line focuses on the life and career of famed humorist Will Rogers (born November 4, 1879 in Oologah, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory - now Oklahoma), using the format of the Ziegfeld Follies, which he often headlined, as a backdrop to describing a few of the episodes of his life. In between, we learn that Will Rogers met his wife Betty Blake on the moon (not at a freight station), that his children never age in the show because Florenz Ziegfeld didn't want to spend extra money on children of different ages, that Wiley Post (the half-blind pilot who will be with Will Rogers when he dies) inexplicably is always hanging out in the audience of every show, and that Will Rogers is the most boring, one-dimensional character anyone might meet (which is probably not true given his rather exciting life). When his wife complains he is away from home too much, she is easily mollified with expensive gifts. Years pass from scene to scene with Will Rogers doing bad rope tricks, telling tired old jokes, and expressing "political opinions" that were so naive they were almost laughable. In the end, you leave the theater not having met a real human being with all the complexity that implies. If this musical is ever revived, the book will need a complete re-write. 

I would describe the play as poor and the actors as mediocre, at best. There were only three high-quality professional performers in this production. Mary Elise Jones, who played Betty Blake (Will Rogers' wife) was the star of the show. She is the only character given the opportunity to show any depth of emotions. She also has a beautiful voice and did a wonderfully moving rendition of "No Man Left For Me". Michael Santora was perfectly pleasant and correctly cast in the main role of Will Rogers but there was very little for him to work with as the part is currently written. Where is the businessman making decisions, where is the conflict, what motivates him, what frightens him? In this play, Will Rogers is nothing but a cartoon character you might see in children's theater. Still, Mr. Santora is engaging and does the very best he can with the material. I particularly enjoyed his renditions of "Give A Man Enough Rope", "Our Favorite Son" and the low-key closing number "Never Met A Man I Didn't Like". Adam Brett, who played Pete the Stage Manager, is the only other actor in the production with a charismatic stage presence who evidenced any talent. There were no other standouts in this large cast and too many of the actors appeared to be poorly trained amateurs. I have seen other productions of the BroadHollow Theatre Company (most notably Fools and Into The Woods) and they were top notch! Whoever was the Casting Director of this show went a long way to destroying the reputation of this theater company. Even I am re-thinking whether it will be worth my time seeing Carousel, their next scheduled production.

This show lacked energy and was very uninspiring. There was no live orchestra and only a C-rated Burlesque Bevy of Babes you might find in a poorly attended Gentlemen's Club miles off the Las Vegas Strip. There were a few cute kids who were adorable but that is the most that can be said of the remaining cast. Will Rogers ("The Cherokee Kid" who was just over 1/4 Cherokee) was given at least one good line. When Florenz Ziegfeld told him that "in a Ziegfeld Show, the wedding always ends the first act," Rogers responded, "Well in our case, the wedding proceeded the act." He also referred to Wiley Post and himself as "a one-eyed flier and a half-breed rope swinger." His wife was left with lines such as, "If you get yourself killed, I'll never talk to you again." As for an inserted dose of philosophy, Will Rogers recalls that as the plane was going down, he said, "We're going down Wiley!" to which Wiley Post replied, "Hell, Will. Nobody stays up forever!" Of course, there were no survivors so we have absolutely no idea what they said to one another in those last moments. William Penn Adair Rogers died in that plane crash in Point Barrow, Alaska on August 15, 1935 (not on August 13th as mentioned in the show). 

In real life, Will Rogers was a far more interesting and colorful character, none of which is substantively portrayed in the musical. After he obtained recognition as a humorist-philosopher in Vaudeville, he gained a national audience in acting and literary careers from 1915 to 1935. He often expressed the views of the "common man" downplaying the importance of academic credentials ("Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects"). Americans of all walks of life admired his individualism. He extolled hard work as the road to success. He symbolized the self-made man who believed in America, in progress, and in the American Dream of upward mobility. Being part Cherokee, he often quipped his ancestors did not come over on the Mayflower, but they "met the boat." Later in life, he served as a goodwill ambassador to Mexico and a brief stint as mayor of Beverly Hills. Since the California city was incorporated and thus run by an appointed city manager, the "mayor's office" was merely a ceremonial one which enabled him to make more jokes about do-nothing politicians such as himself. He often said he was "not a member of any organized political party" because he was a Democrat but he did support Republican Presidential Candidate Calvin Coolidge. He also mounted a mock campaign for President in 1928 as the candidate of the Anti-Bunk Party promising to immediately resign if elected.  

I only wish The Will Rogers Follies did a better job of portraying the true adventures of this amazing man. I am pretty certain if he were alive and saw this musical, he would make some humorous quip about it in public but, in private, probably wouldn't be too pleased. So many aspects of his life and personality are completely absent or glossed over. After his death, Will Rogers was mourned by millions of Americans and by people throughout the world. Not since Lincoln's assassination has the American public felt such a loss. Will Rogers will be remembered far longer than this play will be. This production runs through August 28, 2016. Tickets cost $23.00 for adults and $21.00 for seniors 65 and over. For more information, call 631-581-2700. To purchase tickets, visit www.BroadHollow.org 

Applause! Applause! Review of Blake Zolfo's Happily Ever After* (see footnote) at The Metropolitan Room by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Blake Zolfo's Happily Ever After* (see footnote) at The Metropolitan Room was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Happily Ever After* (see footnote)
Starring Blake Zolfo
Director: Lauren Kidwell
Musical Director: Mark Janas
Special Guest: Steve Schalchlin
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 8/10/16  

Who is the charismatic, entertaining performer able to fill a large cabaret room with enthusiastic, adoring fans after only one year of being in New York City? Is he the monster at the end of the book, the Choir Boy at St. Clement's Episcopal Church, the Front Desk Guy at Equinox? Perhaps you met him through a gay dating application during one of his unending searches for the "love of his life" and his own personal Happily Ever After? Maybe you caught his eye in a subway car without knowing his back story or that he is "the new kid in town" taking acting lessons and working to achieve his dream of becoming a Broadway star. In case you were unaware of the fact, let me be the first to tell you that Blake Zolfo is the latest singing sensation in the New York Cabaret Community. I caught his New York City Cabaret Debut at The Metropolitan Room in order to report to you my impressions of this good-looking, clean-cut, finely dressed, extremely talented newcomer. Blake Zolfo has a pleasant, sincere personality and a beautiful voice. He has succeeded in putting together a well-crafted show with an interesting song selection. 

Born in Crown Point, Indiana, Blake Zolfo graduated High School in 2010 and then moved to Chicago for a year where he took acting classes (Acting Studio Chicago), dance classes (Lou Conte Dance Studio), and private voice lessons (Trish Hales). In the fall of 2011, he was admitted to The Boston Conservatory where he earned a BFA in Musical Theatre. He has appeared as a Guest Artist with the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra, won the W.I.S.E. Award ("Emerging Artist") for playing Alfred in Little Murders, and was most recently seen touring as Luke in the Theatre Works USA production of  The Lightning Thief. He is an actor, singer, and dancer who is a member of Actors' Equity Association. One year ago, he moved to New York City to see if he could make it here. He has now successfully launched his first cabaret show with the very talented Mark Janas as Musical Director and Steve Schalchlin ("My New York Life") as Guest Star. Blake Zolfo deserves to place a pink feather in his hat for this accomplishment because a pink feather represents "unconditional love, romance, caring,  compassion, empathy, kindness, gentleness, harmony and faithfulness" - qualities he appears to have as reflected in the theme of the show, which was his commitment to Happily Ever After and the rude awakenings and heartbreak he went through when things didn't turn out exactly as he had planned.

In The Monster At The End Of This Book, Sesame Street character Grover eventually realizes he is the monster he was trying desperately to avoid. For Zolfo, the monster represents his fear of being alone. Hence, his perpetual search for "true love." At age 13, his first "perfect relationship" lasted two weeks. Back in Indiana, he had a girlfriend for six years - his first Happily Ever After! That didn't work out and after having ten boyfriends in ten years, he eventually found Gerald, his second Happily Ever After. Despite loving him with absolute devotion and loyalty, eventually, his heart was once again broken ("I Live Alone Again" - John Wallowitch). He is now "gun-shy" (interesting use of that phrase) about dating and wonders whether he will ever love that freely again, but he still goes on regretting nothing because he optimistically believes that all he has gone through will eventually lead him to "the one." To reflect his unending optimism, he finishes off the show singing "Anyway" (Marina McBride) ("Build It Anyway, Sing It Anyway, Do It Anyway, Love Them Anyway") and "On My Way To You" (Michel Legrand) ("I wouldn't change a thing on my way to you"). The show includes a spirited rendition of "Orange Colored Sky" (DeLugg/Stein) and a very believable "Stuck On You" (Dick Gallagher). "No More" (Stephen Sondheim) lacked the emotional impact I expected it would have and the show could have used a number of additional true anecdotes from his life, but overall, it was a huge success. At the end, Blake Zolfo received a spirited and enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience.

Blake Zolfo is destined to have a long and successful career in musical theater. Catch him when you can! For more information about Blake Zolfo, visit his website at http://www.blakezolfo.com/ 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Peace, Love & Yolanda at The Metropolitan Room by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

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

Peace, Love & Yolanda
A Celebration Of The Rev. Yolanda Songbook
Musical Director: Kenneth Gartman
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 8/6/16  

Peace, Love & Yolanda was a two-hour celebration of the life and songbook of Rev. Yolanda, a two-time MAC Award Winning, Blues Hall of Fame, Outmusician of the Year 2003, and GLBT Hall of Fame Honoree who just turned 60 and is celebrating 25 years of songwriting, performing and ministry. Rev. Yolanda is a self-described trans/femme gender queer performance artist, and interfaith minister. Born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama ("The hit record capital of the world"), Tony Mapes sang gospel music  and tried to get a record deal. When that fell through, he moved to the East Village, became a political activist, and met the Radical Faeries in 1992. He moved to a Faerie commune in Vermont (where the bond between the residents co-created HOME in mutual love and respect honoring the divine in each of us) and began his life as Yolanda, eventually ending up in Burlington, where her Radical Faerie, Transgender Warrior, GLBT social activist songwriting took off with her dream band, Yolanda & The Plastic Family. In 1999, Yolanda was invited to play on Queer Music Night at CBGBs. After two years of performing, she decided to move back to New York City, eventually becoming the first "hostess" at Freddy Freeman's newly formed Bear Music night, called Bearapalooza. In her continuing journey through life, she eventually found the love of her life, got married, and attended One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in 2009. By 2011, she was Rev. Yolanda and in 2012, she began her music ministry with her MAC Award-winning show, Rev. Yolanda's Old Time Gospel Hour. Through her ministry, she works to "co-create circles of love" and helps people recognize "the light of the divine" in each of us. 

There were many special guests who made arrangements to attend this show. In fact, I felt as if I were sitting through an episode of This Is Your Life, an American Reality documentary series first broadcast on NBC Radio from 1948 to 1952 and then on NBC Television from 1952 to 1961 (It was originally hosted by its creator and producer Ralph Edwards and was revived in later decades). During Peace, Love & Yolanda!, we are introduced to a woman who went to High School with "Tony Mapes" and drove up from Alabama to help him celebrate his life and career. Before "Rev. Yolanda", Musical Director Kenneth Gartman knew her as "Roger." Similarly, many other individuals from all aspects of Rev. Yolanda's life were present in the room. Too often, people's lives are only truly celebrated after they die. It was very nice to see a fitting tribute to a respected and loved individual who is still alive and in the prime of their artistic productivity. To use Rev. Yolanda's words, "HIV positive & 60 years old. How about that!" There is an old saying you can live as many lives as you wish - and Rev. Yolanda is definitely confirming that statement is true. Who knows what the next chapter of her life will bring? I wouldn't be surprised if one day she decides to run for Governor of the State of New York!

In this show, we saw the celebration of her songbook, from the beginning of her career up to now. Rev. Yolanda sang "Alien Love Child" (her anthem to The Radical Faeries), "Muscle Shoals" (a tribute to her home town - "The South Will Rise Again!"), "Love Divine", "Step Back", "Primal Sensation" (with Jess Jurkovic as guest pianist), and her most popular song, "We Are Angels" (OutVoice's Top 10 Song Chart of 2015). The show also featured guest stars from the world of theater, cabaret, and the queer music scene who have been on the journey with Yolanda and hold a special place in her heart. Those guests included Freddy Freeman (founder of Bearapalooza), who sang "A Man Ain't Supposed To Cry"; Raissa Katona Bennett ("Christine" in Phantom Of The Opera), who sang "Control Queen" (Funny Lyrics: "Everyone in the world has their own place and that's where they should stay!" - very Trumpian - and"If people in my life would just do what I say, they'd be O.K."); Tym Moss (host of Artists Exposed With Tym Moss), who sang "Eat Me" (Lyric: "Don't tell me what to do! What's the matter with you!"); Tanya Moberly (2016 MAC Award Best Female Vocalist) singing "Nice Girl"; Candy Samples (Drag Superstar) performing "The Sickness Of Beauty"; Kenneth Gartman (Musical Director, pianist, singer, MAC Award Nominee) singing "The Boy Who Sings The Blues"); Doreen Younglove, who sang "Freedom"; Jim Keyes (guitarist, singer, songwriter), who sang "Home"; and Rev. Shawn Moninger, who performed the Love & Light Medley. Besides the talented Jim Keyes, the band (this night called The Yolandaleers) featured the very talented Matt Vander Ende on drums, Dennis Michael Keefe on bass, and Emily Mikesell (Radio Gals original cast) on background vocals and fiddle. 

Peace, Love & Yolanda was a one-off special. If you missed it, you are just going to have to live with that for the rest of your life and make every effort to attend Rev. Yolanda's 61st Birthday Bash, if there is one. This show was absolutely wonderful, filled with soaring melodies and joy filled lyrics. Her message is to love yourself and to be all you can be! We can then take the light that shines in each of us out into the world to share that love. Did I mention there were images from Rev. Yolanda's life projected on the wall during the show, including one that was so graphic, it had to be censored so the audience members wouldn't go blind or have nightmares. There were many other surprises, in fact, far too many to mention in this short review of  an afternoon show, which flew by with no intermission. 

Rev. Yolanda views herself as a combination of Louise Hay and John Waters. That may well very be, but in my opinion, Rev. Yolanda is her own unique special creation unlike anyone else in the world. She is a loving and caring individual who makes the world a better place simply because she is in it. I encourage you to buy her CDs and see her full feature length rocku-docku-dramadey Rev. Yolanda's Old Time Gospel Hour - The Movie (www.goyolanda.com). She is absolutely fabulous! For more information, visit www.Yolanda.net