Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Narrows Community Theater's production of Annie Get Your Gun at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

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

Annie Get Your Gun
Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Herbert & Dorothy Fields
Book Revisions by Peter Stone
Produced by Marla Gotay
Directed by Drew Franklin
Musical Director: Paolo C. Perez
Stage Manager: Jenna Marie Sparacio
Sound Design: Steve Jacobs
Costume Designer: Courtney Leigh Newman
Choreographer: Heather Shore
Narrows Community Theater
Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater
101st Street & Fort Hamilton Parkway
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY 11209
Reviewed 6/11/16 

Annie Get Your Gun is a musical with lyrics and music by Irving Berlin, and a book by Dorothy Fields and her brother Herbert Fields. The story is a fictionalized version of the life of Annie Oakley (1860-1926), a sharpshooter who starred in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. For those who have been living under a rock since 1946 when Ethel Merman arrived on Broadway in the role of Annie Oakley, this musical contains such classic show tunes as "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly," "The Girl That I Marry," "You Can't Get A Man With A Gun," "They Say It's Wonderful," "I Got The Sun In The Morning," "An Old-Fashioned Wedding," and "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)." Add to that a rivalry and romance between Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, and a secondary love affair between an underage girl and an Irish/Indian boy (just as Rodgers & Hammerstein II included a secondary mixed-race romance in South Pacific), and you have the formula for another interesting, if not preachy, socially progressive musical designed to have you rooting for forbidden love, applauding interracial marriage, and opposing discrimination in any form (except when it's against white people). Whites are liberally criticized in the 1999 libretto written by Peter Stone (and used here) for stealing the country from Native Americans and for taking all the natural resources found on Indian land. Not only is there no reference made to the brutal and savage acts some Indians perpetrated against settlers in the frontier territories but all potentially offensive songs and references to Native American Indians have been completely white-washed out of the story. Chief Sitting Bull, who "adopts" Annie Oakley as his "daughter" (in real life, calling her Watanya Cicilla, which was translated as Little Sure Shot in public advertisements), is presented as a kindly, old, wise man who has stoically suffered the slings and arrows heaped upon him by the Great White Father. His presence in the show is designed to have you empathize with him and the perceived plight of his people.  

The show premiered on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre on May 16, 1946 and ran for 1,147 performances. Annie Get Your Gun had its first Broadway revival in 1966 at the Music Theater of Lincoln Center. This production opened on May 31, 1966 and ran until July 9, followed by a short 10-week U.S. Tour. It returned to Broadway at the Broadway Theatre on September 21, 1966 for 78 performances. Ethel Merman reprised her original role as Annie. The libretto and score were also revised with the controversial secondary romance between Tommy Keeler and Winnie Tate being completely eliminated. In 1999, a new production had its pre-Broadway engagement at the Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.) from December 29, 1998 to January 24, 1999. Previews began on Broadway on February 2, 1999 at the Marquis Theatre, with an official opening on March 4, 1999. It closed on September 1, 2001 after 35 previews and 1,045 performances. This revival starred Bernadette Peters as Annie. The musical won the 1999 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical and Bernadette Peters won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. As already noted, Peter Stone re-wrote the book to make it less offensive, re-integrated the subplot romance between Winnie and Tommy, and dropped "Colonel Buffalo Bill", "I'm A Bad, Bad Man", and "I'm An Indian Too" from the show. Historians have criticized the book for being an inaccurate depiction of Annie Oakley's life. The show portrays Annie as a loud, boisterous character when in reality she had a quiet personality and did needlepoint in her spare time. 

Marla Gotay, the producer of the show, decided that in terms of script and score, the Narrows Community Theater adaptation of Annie Get Your Gun would be "akin to the 1999 revival to avoid offensive scenes" that were in the original. Reinforcing that thought, Jennifer Prezioso, who does a fine job portraying Annie Oakley, was quoted as saying, "we wanted to make it more respectful to all cultures and we've done the best we could so everyone feels comfortable." I give the company credit for continuing down that politically correct road all the way to the end by utilizing non-traditional casting. For example, the chief, unrivaled star of the show was Bennett Silverstein, who did a remarkable job as Sitting Bull. Hardly a natural born Lakota Sioux, Silverstein was hilarious, yet sober, in his portrayal of the Indian Chief (who together with the confederated Lakota Tribes and the Northern Cheyenne defeated the 7th Cavalry under Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer on June 25, 1876). George Raiola (Running Deer) and Alex Deverson (Eagle Feather) were also not evidently of American Indian descent and yet they nevertheless put in impressive and believable performances in their small roles showing that perhaps, after all, they can be Indians too! Liam Specht, who played Little Jake, Annie's Little Brother, has a natural talent and a charismatic stage presence. He has a great future in show business. Two other standout performers were Sarah Cappiello (Dolly Tate) and Jessie Lanza (Winnie Tate). I could nit-pick here and there questioning whether the "love at first sight" attraction between Annie Oakley (Jennifer Prezioso) and Frank Butler (Sean Jarrell) was believably portrayed and whether Nicholas Hudson was strong enough a personality to play the larger-than-life showman Buffalo Bill Cody, but in the end, the entire ensemble worked well together, all had great voices, and everything came together to pull off a successful production. An extraordinary talent, Paolo C. Perez, the Music Director, is a great asset to the success of the productions of the Narrows Community Theater.

This production of Annie Get Your Gun offers you light-hearted entertainment with a happy ending. It is ironic that in the musical, Frank Butler is portrayed as being jealous of Annie Oakley's success as a sharp-shooting star, while in reality, his ego was not threatened and he quickly offered to be her manager and her husband. So the lesson of Annie Oakley's life is to be yourself, while the musical suggests to little girls that if they want a man, they had better not trample upon his masculine ego. In both real life and in the musical, Annie Oakley sold the precious medals she received from European Royalty for her sharp-shooting skill in order to keep their money-losing Wild West Shows on the road. This generosity, more than anything else, reflects the kind of altruistic person Annie Oakley was and leaves us with regret that we never met her.

For more information regarding future productions of Narrows Community Theater, visit their website at http://narrowscommunitytheater.com/ 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Narrows Community Theater's production of Annie Get Your Gun at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Narrows Community Theater's production of Annie Get Your Gun at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Annie Get Your Gun
Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Herbert & Dorothy Fields
Book Revisions by Peter Stone
Produced by Marla Gotay
Directed by Drew Franklin
Musical Director: Paolo C. Perez
Stage Manager: Jenna Marie Sparacio
Sound Design: Steve Jacobs
Costume Designer: Courtney Leigh Newman
Choreographer: Heather Shore
Narrows Community Theater
Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater
101st Street & Fort Hamilton Parkway
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY 11209
Reviewed 6/11/16 

I recently saw Annie Get Your Gun at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater, which is a modern facility that can easily seat 470 people. I would estimate that 200 people were in the audience to experience this excellent Narrows Community Theater production of the old classic - purified and revised by Peter Stone in 1999 for the sake of political correctness and to avoid even the slightest possibility of offending anyone. Gone from the libretto are what were considered insensitive references to American Indians and if you want to hear the songs "Colonel Buffalo Bill" and "I'm An Indian Too", you are going to have to buy a CD of the original 1946 Broadway production because those two songs are not featured here. There is still a reference to two Indian workers traveling in the "wrong" train car and to one woman's opposition to her sister marrying a man who was Half-Irish and Half-Injun. Although I enjoyed the songs for years, I had not really understood their social significance until I learned the back story by seeing the show. 

Dorothy Fields had the idea for a musical about Annie Oakley to star her friend Ethel Merman. The show is based partially on the real-life story of Annie Oakley and her love affair with her competitive shooting rival Frank Bulter. Unfortunately, liberty is often taken with the facts to enhance dramatic effect. In real life, Frank Butler did get beaten in a shooting match by Annie Oakley but he quickly became her manager and her husband. He was never jealous that his wife was the better shooter. They were on their own for several years before signing up with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. In life, she was a strong advocate for women's rights, for suffrage, and especially for women knowing how to defend themselves by using guns. Her husband literally starved himself to death within months of his wife's death.

Marla Gotay as the producer did an outstanding job in bringing all this talent together, Drew Franklin as the director brought out the best from the actors. Heather Shore choreographed the numbers superbly. Paolo C. Perez expertly conducted the orchestra. Above all, the actors/singers/dancers made the show. The casting was superb because not a single false note was to be heard. Their performances were flawless. Sean Jarrell as Frank Butler and Jennifer Prezioso as Annie Oakley played off each other quite well while Nicholas Hudson as Buffalo Bill Cody moved the show along very nicely. Jennifer Prezioso successfully conveyed how Annie Oakley grew as a person. Sitting Bull, played by Bennett Silverstein, was so convincing, it was hard to believe he was from Brooklyn. The actors separately and together as an ensemble were equally flawless in their presentations.

When I attended the show, Councilman Vincent J. Gentile presented Narrows Community Theater with a $2,500.00 government grant to help with the expenses incurred by this non-profit community theater but he did not fully recognize or appreciate how professional their productions are. At a time when tickets for Broadway shows are priced out of the hands of ordinary New Yorkers (tickets for regular shows are in three digits), this is a great opportunity to see high quality, professional theater productions for a reasonable price. Many Community Theatre Companies in the New York metropolitan area are blessed with an abundance of talent. It is also true that many have actors who should have retired from the profession long ago. Narrow Community Theater is solidly in the better category. Given the quality of the productions, the friendliness of the staff, and the low cost of their concession items, I will definitely return to catch future shows.

Annie Get Your Gun is a rootin, tootin, shooting Cinderella story with a happy ending.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Under The 'C': Cacophony Daniels Sings The Songs Of Howard Ashman at The Duplex Cabaret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Under The 'C': Cacophony Daniels Sings The Songs Of Howard Ashman at The Duplex Cabaret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Under The 'C': Cacophony Daniels Sings The Songs Of Howard Ashman

Written & Performed by Courter Simmons as Cacophony Daniels
Directed by Jonathan Hadley
Music Direction & Additional Vocals by Kyle Branzel
The Duplex Cabaret Theatre
61 Christopher Street
New York, New York 10014
Reviewed 6/10/16

Under The 'C': Cacophony Daniels Sings The Songs Of Howard Ashman is a perfect cabaret show that should be seen by everyone on the planet! It is extremely entertaining, informative and humorous. Cacophony Daniels is a bright new star whose tribute to the songs of Howard Ashman can provide guidance to all cabaret performers looking for advice on how to improve their own shows so people will actually be pleased they spent money to see it. Cacophony Daniels was immaculately dressed in a stylish wig and a green gown, which at the appropriate moment was transformed into something sleeker and sexier. The charismatic, good-looking and talented Kyle Branzel was an excellent choice for musical director. Although Cacophony has a beautiful and powerful voice, Kyle added his own special vocal talents to a number of the songs presented. Jonathan Hadley also deserves credit for his simple, yet effective, direction. By the end of the show, you will be singing along to "Suddenly, Seymour" from Little Shop Of Horrors and possibly shoving a small, stuffed fish or ocean mammal into your purse, rucksack or pants pocket.

Howard Elliott Ashman was born in Baltimore on May 17, 1950. He first studied at Boston University and Goddard College (with a stop at Tufts University's Summer Theater) before earning his MFA from Indiana University in 1974. After graduating, he spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso. Upon his return, he became the artistic director of the WPA Theater in New York. He and Alan Menken collaborated on Little Shop Of Horrors, with Ashman as director, lyricist, and librettist, winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics. Ashman was the director, lyricist, and book writer for the 1986 Broadway musical Smile (including the song Disneyland with music by Marvin Hamlisch). Also in 1986, Ashman wrote the screenplay for the Frank Oz-directed film adaptation of Little Shop Of Horrors. Howard Ashman & Barry Mann wrote "Once Upon A Time In New York City" for Walt Disney's 1988 animated buddy comedy Oliver & Company. While at Disney, he was told about The Little Mermaid, another project they had been working on for a number of years, Ashman, along with Alan Menken, wrote all the songs for that film, including "Under The Sea" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls". Three of their songs ended up in Aladdin but "Call Me A Princess" was cut. Ashman also wrote the lyrics (music by Jonathan Sheffer) for "Song For A Hunter College Graduate" from the musical Diamonds, and "Growing Boy", a song from the unproduced musical Babe about the life of Babe Ruth.In collaboration with Alan Menken, Howard Ashman completed the lyrical work on Beauty & The Beast before succumbing to AIDS-related complications on March 14, 1991. Beauty & The Beast was released mere months after his death and the film is dedicated to him.

Since this performance was a benefit for Harlem United, which started as a group dedicated to individuals suffering from AIDS, Cacophony Daniels put the audience in the mood by singing Howard Ashman's melancholy song "Sheridan Square" (Lyrics by Howard Ashman; Music by Alan Menken). She explained that Harlem United provides quality HIV/AIDS care, prevention, housing and clinical services in a safe environment. To learn more and to donate to this great organization, visit http://www.harlemunited.org/learn/about/ This moment of reflection on all who have been lost to AIDS ends on a positive note as the last line of the lyrics of "Sheridan Square" is "we can make it until the sun comes up - and it will - over Sheridan Square." The highlights of the show included Cacophony Daniels singing a medley of songs Howard Ashman wrote about food, her exhibiting a less-than-ladylike side of her when singing "Song For A Hunter College Graduate" (Baltimore Blows!), and "Growing Boy" (sung in an ever-so-suggestive way as a duet with Kyle Branzel). Just when you think Cacophony Daniels has hit her high point in the show, she climbs yet another mountain to top herself. Cacophony Daniels brings joy to all she does! You will love her! 

Courter Simmons, the inspiration behind Cacophony Daniels, hails from Milpitas, California where he first started performing with Milpitas Rainbow Theatre, a children's theatre group. His first professional production was at the American Musical Theatre San Jose where he played one of the child singers in Evita. He was later hired to host a local children's television show, Kid's Clubhouse, on San Jose's KTEH Channel 54. While earning his BA in Theatre and Dance from Santa Clara University, he continued to perform in various musicals, plays and dance concerts. Upon graduation, he moved to New York City and was quickly cast (and earned his Equity Card) in Theatreworks/USA's national tour of Reading Rainbow. Courter made his Off-Broadway debut in If You Give A Mouse A Cookie at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Soon thereafter, he joined the cast of the National Tour of Disney's Beauty & The Beast as LeFou, Gaston's silly singing sidekick. He was subsequently cast as Joey in the First National Tour Of Jersey Boys, which opened in San Francisco. After touring with Jersey Boys for over two years, understudying the role of Frankie Valli, Courter was chosen for the great honor of representing the tour as Frankie at the 63rd Annual Tony Awards, which aired live nationwide on CBS. In 2011, after almost 5 years on the road with Jersey Boys, Courter was given the opportunity to join the Broadway cast of the show as record producer Bob Crewe. Now, in the drag persona of Cacophony Daniels, Courter Simmons brings New York City audiences Under The 'C', which honors the contributions Howard Ashman made to musical theatre on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of his death in 1991. For more information on Courter Simmons, visit his website at www.courtersimmons.com 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of I'll Say She Is at The Connelly Theater by Dr. Thomas G. Jacoby

This review of I'll Say She Is at The Connelly Theater was written by Dr. Thomas G. Jacoby and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

I'll Say She Is
The Lost Marx Brothers Musical
Original Book & Lyrics by Will B. Johnstone
Adapted & Expanded by Noah Diamond
Music by Tom Johnstone
Additional Music by Alexander Johnstone
Directed by Amanda Sisk
Musical Direction & Arrangements by Sabrina Chap
Choreography by Shea Sullivan
Costume Design by Julz Kroboth
The Connelly Theater
220 East 4th Street
New York, New York 10009 
Reviewed 6/5/16 

I'll Say She Is, now in limited performance at The Connelly Theater on East 4th Street, is no ordinary musical revival. This is the musical that allowed the Marx Brothers to transition from their careers in Vaudeville to the Broadway Stage. The musical, written by the Johnstone Brothers, Will and Tom, was lost to posterity, but has been lovingly re-created and adapted by Noah Diamond.

As early musicals go, it's a relatively typical series of comic sketches, with musical numbers interspersed. The plot concerns Beauty, bored with her Park Avenue existence, seeking thrills and, in the end, finding that "love is the greatest thrill of all." This allows for great flexibility in production, and indeed, there have been changes in the order of the sketches since the original. The suitors competing for Beauty take her to Wall Street, Central Park, Broadway, an Opium Den, and on a flight of fancy to Versailles, which allows Groucho to play Napoleon, one of his more beloved roles.

Whenever one undertakes this type of historic labour of love, there are several inherent dangers, especially when taking on a sacred entity like the Marx Brothers. The question that needs to be asked is: just because this can be done, should it be done? In the case of I'll Say She Is, the answer is yes. One-liners like Beauty describing her dowager aunt as her "fire extinguisher" and repeatedly referencing her "suppressed desires" are universal themes, and thus, remain timely. What youthful virgin isn't seeking thrills? In addition, the relatively mild humour of the 1920s easily meets the politically-correct standards of today. Songs like "The Wall Street Blues" could be considered anthems for any American generation. The excellent cast does superb work as an ensemble, and there's the delightful and unapologetic inclusion of various hidden talents of the cast members in the sketches and numbers: a harp solo, impressive trumpet/bugle work, balletic interludes, and a piano duet.

That's a lot to pack into two acts of just over an hour each but the cast keeps it moving. The very few dated references such as "he's a Horn and Hardartite" are offset with modern references, like Groucho in drag saying, "They won't let me use the bathroom in North Carolina." The only piece that perhaps goes over the audience's collective head is "Glimpses Of The Moon", which appears to be a parody of earlier (pre-1924) crooner ballads that overuse the whole "moon/June/soon" rhyming scheme. It's cute and funny today but must have been absolutely hysterically funny for the audience of the time, since they were all familiar with the type of schmaltzy ballad being spoofed.

Special mention should be made of Kathy Biehl (Ruby Mintworth), whose solos in "Thrill Of Love" and "Glimpses Of The Moon" demonstrate an awesome talent, and Corrado Alicata, whose comedic charisma nearly steals several scenes. Amplification issues rendered some of Melody Lane's (Beauty) notes painfully shrill, but with any luck, this will be corrected in subsequent performances. An example of Broadway archaeology, performed by a committed and talented cast, I'll Say She Is is a wonderful way to spend a few hours lost in an idealised bygone era.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of I'll Say She Is at The Connelly Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of I'll Say She Is at The Connelly Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

I'll Say She Is
The Lost Marx Brothers Musical
Original Book & Lyrics by Will B. Johnstone
Adapted & Expanded by Noah Diamond
Music by Tom Johnstone
Additional Music by Alexander Johnstone
Directed by Amanda Sisk
Musical Direction & Arrangements by Sabrina Chap
Choreography by Shea Sullivan
Costume Design by Julz Kroboth
The Connelly Theater
220 East 4th Street
New York, New York 10009 
Reviewed 6/5/16 

I'll Say She Is, a revue starring The Marx Brothers (Groucho, Harpo, Chico & Zeppo), debuted at The Lyric Theatre in Allentown before heading to Philadelphia in May, 1923. After touring for almost a year, the show opened on Broadway at The Casino Theatre on May 19, 1924. It closed on February 7, 1925 after 313 performances. I'll Say She Is was a roaring success and catapulted the Marxes to super stardom. However, unlike their next two Broadway musicals, The Cocoanuts (1925) and Animal Crackers (1928), this show, which included some Marx Brothers routines and musical specialties from their years in Vaudeville, was never made into a movie. The libretto and lyrics were written by Will B. Johnstone, who later co-wrote the classic Marx Brothers films Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932), with music by his brother, Tom Johnstone. In 2009, writer and performer Noah Diamond began to research and restore I'll Say She Is, working from Will R. Johnstone's 1923 rehearsal typescript - a thirty-page outline. Other sources used to reconstruct this musical included extant versions of certain scenes; fragments of the Marx Brothers' vaudeville repertoire; other musicals written by the Johnstones; newspaper items which describe and quote from the show; and the recollections of those who saw or participated in the original production. Specific details of the process of reconstructing this revue are included in the book entitled Gimme A Thrill: The Story Of I'll Say She Is, The Lost Marx Brothers Musical, And How It Was Found, written by Noah Diamond and published by BearManor Media in 2016. Diamond's adaptation of I'll Say She Is was seen in 2014 at the New York International Fringe Festival and now a fully staged production has opened Off-Broadway at The Connelly Theater, where it runs at least through July 2, 2016. In Noah Diamond's "Hysterical Note" published in the program, he writes, "Collecting and assembling these puzzle pieces, and filling in the blanks with Marxist intuition, was the project of a lifetime...My contributions represent roughly half the lyrics, and a third of the book...But these interpolations are informed by an immersion in Johnstone and Marx works of the era, and even my material here is full of phrases and ideas straight from the source."

You can purchase a copy of The New York Morning Moon in the lobby of The Connelly Theater before the show for One Dollar. The scandalous headline of that newspaper (dated May 19, 1924) is "Society Woman Craves Excitement!" The subheading reads, "Beautiful Heiress Promises Hand, Heart, Fortune To Man Who Can Give Her A Thrill." It is also suspected that Beauty, the Heiress, is a "victim of suppressed desires." She resides in the Mintworth mansion on Park Avenue, with her aunt, Ruby Mintworth (widow of late industrialist Chester Mintworth), who also admits to having "suppressed desires." The entire show involves various scenes showing efforts by The Marx Brothers' characters and others to give Beauty the thrill she seeks. Her aunt tries to excite her with the prospect of wearing new clothing and choosing new draperies. Beauty tries hypnotism, gambling, a Chinatown Opium Den run by the Mafia, wandering about town as a poor person, hanging out in Central Park, on Wall Street, and on Broadway, and even watching ballet, attending a harp concert, and being falsely arrested and charged with murder - yet nothing seems to do the trick. In the end, Beauty realizes that "Love is the Greatest Thrill of All!" She marries Zeppo, her Aunt marries Groucho, everyone moves in together and apparently lives happily ever after. 

In this production of I'll Say She Is, Noah Diamond is amazing and extremely believable as Groucho. He is your host in this revue and often breaks the 4th wall when a joke is particularly bad or causes you to groan out loud. He will tell you, "No Refunds", "Don't Come To Me With You're Problems", "Kindly Submit Your Complaints In Writing", or may simply tell the audience, "We'll Let You Go In A Little While". The audience may have been promised "refined and civilized entertainment" but what they end up getting is wordplay, satire, and improvisational comedy. In the Napoleon skit at Versailles, where Groucho plays Napoleon and Beauty portrays Josephine, Groucho suspects his wife is cheating on him with Alphonse, Francois, and Gaston, who often frequent her bedchambers. When Napoleon unexpectedly appears, Josephine asks why he is not at the front. He responds, "My horse overslept and I didn't want to nag him." He also reported, "I'm off to make Russia safe for French kissing" and said, "The Russians are in full retreat and I'm right in front of them". Having returned from Hither and Yon, he stated, "Hither is not bad, but Yon is terrible." Looking at Josephine, Napoleon says, "When I look at your face, I know you are loyal to the French Army. I only hope it remains a standing army." When Groucho plays the prosecutor in Beauty's murder trial, he promises to send her "to Albany for 20 years." When she objects and asks why, he responds, "Capital Punishment!" In the "Backwards Cinderella Story," Beauty asks Groucho who is dressed as a Fairy, "Are you my Fairy Godmother?" Groucho responds saying, "No, I am just your regular Union Fairy, but yesterday, I was the Staten Island Fairy." He goes on and says, "Would you believe they won't let me use the bathroom in North Carolina!" 

Seth Shelden makes a very likeable and talented Harpo. Great wig. Pleasant personality. Good interactions with his fellow "brothers" and yes, he does play the harp during one of the scenes. Chico (whose name is pronounced Chick-o because of all the Chicks (U.K. - Birds) he used to chase off-stage) spoke with an Italian accent. Matt Roper was consistently entertaining in the role. He, too, had plenty of funny lines in the show. Beauty had asked all The Marx Brothers characters to retire to the parlor "to draw lots" to see who would have the first shot to woo her. Chico's response, "Maybe we draw a little first and see how it goes." As one of Josephine's suitors, Chico says, "I'll marry you." She objects saying, "But what about Napoleon?" His response, "I'll marry him too - he has money!" During one scene, Groucho says to Chico, "It's hard to tell if you're walking toward me or if a horse is walking away from me." Matt Walters plays Zeppo, the handsome brother who wins the heart of Beauty in the end. He is charismatic and has a strong stage presence. Melody Jane as Beauty and Kathy Biehl as her opera singing Aunt Ruby are both perfectly cast for their respective roles.  

Are you looking for beautiful women and elaborate costumes? Look no further than I'll Say She Is. Ten talented dancers appear in many well-choreographed numbers wearing matching costumes and headdresses. My favorite numbers in the musical included "This Broadway Song", "I'll Say She Is" ("I'll say she is the woman I adore. Miss 1924"; "Ain't she a beauty? I'll say she is!"), "Wall Street Blues", "I'm Saving You For A Rainy Day", "The Dream Ship", and "Only You". Dante Adela and Peyton Lustig were both amazing ballet dancers in the Apache Dance and when portraying Pygmalion & Galatea. Did I mention there was tap dancing? In addition, when Harpo was accused of stealing silverware from the Mintworth mansion, a Police Officer declared he could not possibly be guilty because of his innocent looking face. All during this time, Harpo was "accidentally" dropping on the floor knives, forks and spoons from the bottom of the sleeve of his jacket. This went on and on until finally Groucho, who had a funny expression on his face, was asked why? His response, "I can't understand what's delaying the coffee pot!" And yes, a coffee pot appeared. 

I'll Say She Is is the most successful project The Marx Brothers ever did on stage and what was thought to be lost forever, has been given a new life thanks to the efforts of Noah Diamond and to the talents of an extraordinary group of performers. Sure the book could use a little more tweaking and the transitions between scenes made a bit smoother but none of that matters. The spirit of the original revue has been revived and Marx Brothers fans the world over now have the opportunity to see this lost musical. You can even purchase and wear a large fake nose while viewing the production. Want to take home Napoleon's sword? You can buy that, too! 

Noah Diamond's Hysterical Note in the program ends with this observation, "The story (a bored heiress looks for thrills) is paradigmatic revue stuff, a clothesline on which to hang songs, sketches, and specialties. Yet in the context of recent experience, even the plot of I'll Say She Is seems meaningful to me. This is a show about the thrill of love: love of laughter, of music, of the theatre, of showbiz and New York and the Jazz Age and the Marx Brothers. Beauty's search for excitement isn't just an excuse to dress up as Napoleon and run around the stage. It's also a reminder to enjoy things, to participate, and to connect with others."

I highly recommend you see I'll Say She Is at The Connelly Theater sometime before July 2, 2016. This is a historic production of a previously lost Marx Brothers Musical. How many opportunities will you get a see a show like that? Whether you are familiar with the Marx Brothers or not, you will leave the show with a new appreciation for their sharp and bizarre sense of humor that satirizes high society and the absurdity of many human interactions. It's a trip down Mammary Lane! There are performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and on Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets cost $30.00 for adults and $25.00 for seniors and children under the age of 18. For reservations, call 212-352-3101. To order tickets online, visit www.illsaysheis.com 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of BroadHollow Theatre Company's production of Neil Simon's Fools at Bayway Arts Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of BroadHollow Theatre Company's production of Neil Simon's Fools 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!

Fools
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Scott Hofer
Costume Design by Joseph Kassner
BroadHollow Theatre Company
at Bayway Arts Center
265 East Main Street
East Islip, New York 11730
Reviewed 6/3/16 

Fools, a comic fable by Neil Simon, premiered on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on April 6, 1981 and closed on May 9, 1981 after 40 performances. The story begins with Leon Steponovitch Tolchinsky, a confident young schoolmaster, arriving in the village of Kulyenchikov, Ukraine (Russian Territory), during the late 19th century. He responded to an ad in his school journal accepting a position as the personal tutor of Sophia Irena Elenya Zubritsky, the young daughter of Doctor Nikolai Zubritsky (who placed the ad) and his wife Lenya. Before finding the doctor's home, Leon runs into Yenchna (a vendor selling flowers as fish), Slovitch, the Butcher, who asks Mishkin, the Postman, if he has his mail (Mishkin responds, "No, I'm the Postman. I have all the mail), and Something Something Snetsky (who can't remember the rest of his name), who warns Leon "that thousands, even hundreds, of tutors have arrived previously in town only to leave within a day." Just before Leon arrives at the doctor's residence, we learn that the Zubrinsky's are just as dimwitted as everyone else in the town. Dr. Zubritsky, thinks his eye chart is a hearing test; Lenya, his wife, can never remember how to open the front door; and Sophia, their daughter, just learned how to sit and is taking singing lessons from a canary. 

Leon is told the stupidity he has encountered is as a result of a 200-year old curse placed on all the residents and domestic animals of the town in 1691 by Vladimir Yousekevitch (whose spoken name causes people to tremble) after Casimir, his son, killed himself because the first Sophia Zubritsky (not the doctor's daughter, but rather an ancestor with the same name) was forbidden to see him by her father, who found out the boy was illiterate and made her marry another man. The curse will be broken if Leon is able to educate Sophia, or if she marries Count Gregor (Gregor Mikhailovitch Breznofsky Fyodor Yousekevitch), the last of the Yousekevitch line. Count Gregor warns Leon that he, too, will be struck dumb and be unable to love, if he fails to educate Sophia within 24 hours of his arrival in town. Leon doesn't believe in curses and tells the doctor he thinks the curse is just an old wives tale but the doctor responds by telling Leon he is confused and must be thinking of another curse in another town where "all the old wives had tails." Leon confesses he would be "halfway home by now" had he not fallen hopelessly in love with Sophia after first meeting her. As a result, he accepts the challenge of trying to educate her and to win her hand in marriage before she agrees to marry Count Gregor, who asks her every morning to be his wife. Her marriage to Count Gregor would end the curse but, unfortunately, he is not an ideal groom for a young, beautiful woman such as Sophia. He recognizes the other girls in the town are all uglier than he is.

I was extremely impressed with the quality of the writing in this Neil Simon play. It is fast-moving with many jokes embedded in the storyline. When you least expect it, you might hear that "the color yellow doesn't stick to your fingers as much as other colors" and that "the purpose of man's existence is 12." We are challenged to appreciate "beautiful questions" and "to not always demand answers." It is explained "a wish is something you hope for that doesn't come true" while "a miracle is a wish God makes." When praying, Dr. Zubritsky divides the town into the "Very Religious" and the "Somewhat Religious." Sophia, the simpleton, can also be very insightful. When Leon yells at her, she asks him whether that is a characteristic of being educated. He is forced to confess that it was "frustration and impatience that caused such crude behavior." While I won't tell you exactly how the story ends, I will say it involves adoption, divorce, further deception, and a wedding that never seems to end. In addition, while the townsfolk appear to be Christian, Dr. Zubritsky definitely speaks with a Mel Brooks inspired Jewish cadence; Count Gregor appears to be an ancestor of Paul Lynde; and Mishkin, the postmaster, vogues and, at any moment, appears ready to break open his closet door to become Kulyenchikov's first gay-rights activist. 

Neil Simon uses the play to comment on the Age of Enlightenment and how women's education alters their role in domestic life and civil society. Count Gregor was taught to "make the villagers fear and tremble" at the mention of his name. They were serfs and he was rich. Now, with town members educated, they are less likely to believe in superstitions and curses or being told they were born "stupid" simply because another man once said that 200 years ago. When asked what he will do now, Count Gregor said he would "probably have to get a job" because "power is useless against the Enlightenment." Now having been educated, the wives of Kulyenchikov "have opinions" and "talk back to their husbands." They are even demanding the right to vote! Kulyenchikov will never be the same!

Scott Hofer deserves credit for his fine direction and I was particularly impressed with the costumes designed by Joseph Kassner. Joe Jankowski was perfectly pleasant and believable as Leon and his romantic affection for Sofia, expertly played by Kelly Anne Zimmardi, seemed genuine. I later learned from the program that this is the first show Joe and Kelly Anne are appearing in together since they got married in real life. However, if their baby in this show is going to look anything like the baby they may have in real life, I recommend they consider a more effective form of birth control (or else, keep the dog out of their bedroom when desiring privacy). The two runaway stars of the show were Gary Milenko, who played Count Gregor, and Frank Dispigno, who was Dr. Zubritsky. Milenko stole the show with his over-the-top portrayal of the insecure, swaggering Count and Dispigno was hilarious as the doctor who was trying to do what was best for his daughter. Every remaining member of this highly talented ensemble cast fully contributed to the success of this production. Kudos to Steven Weinblatt (Snetsky) (who has "two dozen sheep" - 14 in all); Kathleen Rose (Lenya Zubritsky) (who tells her daughter, "Go plant some vegetables; we'll have them for dinner tonight"); Constance I. Moore (Yenchna) (who is selling white flowers as whitefish for only 1.5 kopecks for a bouquet); Bob Coletti (Magistrate) (best line - when the doctor told him he was in fine health and would live to 80, he said, "I'm 79 already!"); Bruce Gotlieb (Mishkin) (the "gay" postman who would read other people's mail and give them to anyone he felt would enjoy reading them); and Mike Cesarano (Slovitch) (who I call the "sausage guy" because he went around town wearing sausages as a neckless - in the end, his biggest fear came true - he was really stupid, even without the curse).

I highly recommend you see Fools. Don't miss out on this opportunity to catch one of Neil Simon's better-written plays. Had this cast been featured in the original Broadway production, it would have run for years! Tickets cost $21.00 for adults and $19.00 for seniors for Saturday, June 11, 2016 at 8:00 p.m. and for Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 2:30 p.m. Call 631-581-2700 for reservations or visit BroadHollow Theatre Company's website at http://www.broadhollow.org/bayway-arts-center/bayway-main-stage/fools/ 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Marissa Mulder: Marilyn In Fragments at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Marissa Mulder: Marilyn In Fragments at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Marissa Mulder: Marilyn In Fragments
Written & Performed by Marissa Mulder
Directed by Sondra Lee
Musical Director (at the piano): Jon Weber
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 5/28/16  

Marissa Mulder, who had been taking an acting class with Sondra Lee, reveals she felt "connected to Marilyn, started reading about her life, reading her diaries, loved her vulnerability and wanted to do a show about her." She wrote Marilyn In Fragments, hired Sondra Lee as her director, and Jon Weber as her pianist. The decision was made to include portions of 20 songs and to intersperse them with words spoken or written by Marilyn Monroe herself, to give you some insight into the starlet. The project turned out to be an epic fail. Do not waste your precious time going down to see this show! I found it to be a soulless, tedious and uninspiring work of performance art. My guest fell asleep and didn't wake up until the polite applause that was provided to the appreciative, attractive performer at the end of the show. The material was also crass at times, such as when Marissa, as Marilyn, said "Don't ever fall in love with a politician because when they fuck you - they fuck you!" What is that supposed to mean? Is it a vague reference to the conspiracy theory that Marilyn was murdered by friends of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert? Instead, Marissa Mulder twice asked what Alanis Morissette meant when she sang, "I have one hand in my pocket."

The songs selected have little to do with the quotations recited during the show. Some of those self-revelations included the following: "I am my thoughts - worthless and a fraud." "I hurt myself today to see if I still feel." "Everyone goes away in the end." "I am selfish, inpatient and a little insecure." "Norma Jean is gone." "Dogs never bite me - only humans." "I don't care if I sing off key. I find myself in my melodies." "The only thing I wanted to be was a great actress." There is no one I trust." "Better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring." "My body is my body - every part of it." "I don't mind making jokes, but I don't want to feel like one." "If you can make a girl laugh, you can make her do anything." and "If you give a girl the right pair of shoes, she can conquer the world." There was no range in Marissa Mulder's acting abilities. While she has a good voice, she was unable to emotionally draw in the audience to make them feel empathy and/or compassion for Ms. Monroe. Disjointed phrases and words alone weren''t able to do the trick and forced interactions between Ms. Mulder and her Musical Director Jon Weber detracted from the continuity of the production. At one point, the improperly dressed Jon Weber stood up and enthusiastically applauded after Marissa supposedly nailed a song she sang as Marilyn. The unsuspecting audience briefly woke up and started applauding louder thinking Weber was trying to generate a bigger reaction from the crowd. Jon Weber's threadbare, shabby-looking jacket looked like it was purchased at a thrift shop. It was totally inappropriate for this upscale location. 

Even Sondra Lee's direction was off. Most of Marissa Mulder's performance was spent center stage. There was one tune sung to a brighter spotlight, one while she leaned against a wall, and a third while she sang to a projected image of Marilyn Monroe. For some unknown reason, she wandered through the audience when singing "My Heart Belongs To Daddy" and I already mentioned how her interactions with her Musical Director, Jon Weber on piano, fell flat. If that was the extent of the expertise Ms. Lee brought to this production, I would ask for a refund. An extraordinary reputation doesn't allow you to coast on that for the rest of your life. Fresh, new, inspirational direction should be expected on every new project. The director should be more than just a name to draw in more impressive audience members, such as Angela Lansbury, Charles Busch, and KT Sullivan, who were in the house the evening I saw the show. 

There was very little substance in the stories revealed regarding Marilyn Monroe's life. Nothing was said about the abuse she suffered as a child but plenty of time was spent on frozen peas revealing that Marilyn was not a good cook. The specifics of her childhood, marriages and career were glossed over, and not much was even said regarding her death. The show was a superficial survey of snippets of her life that failed to engage the audience on any level. 

Marissa Mulder: Marilyn In Fragments will play again at The Laurie Beechman Theatre at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. There is a $20.00 cover charge and a $20.00 food and drink minimum. For a show that runs barely under an hour, I think it is not worth the effort. However, Stephen Holden, writing for The New York Times, gave Marissa Mulder quite a positive review, so perhaps you should check it out yourself and make up your own mind. For more information, call 212-695-6909 or visit http://www.westbankcafe.com/#!laurie-beechman-theatre/s78r1