Sunday, July 23, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Pippin at SoLuna Studio by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Pippin at SoLuna Studio was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Roger O. Hirson
Directed & Choreographed by Karen Braun
Assistant Director/Choreographer: Greg Pepe
Musical Director: Danny Passadino
Assistant Musical Director: Jack Tanzi
Lights, Sounds & Set: Megan Pietroforte
Fight Choreographer: Mark Maurice
Costumes: Leighann Martone & Karen Braun
SoLuna Studio
659 Old Willets Path
Hauppauge, New York 11788
Reviewed 7/21/17

This was my first time reviewing a show at SoLuna Studio, and if this production of Pippin is any indication of the quality of their work, I can assure you I will be back. The staff is friendly, the stage is large, and the concession items are reasonably priced. There is even a raffle with many wrapped basket items that will be drawn for at the end of the current run. Some of their productions have alternate casts performing on different days. I saw Main Stage Cast A. However, I was told Justin Autz, the main actor playing Pippin, also performs the role as part of Main Stage Cast B. Pippin premiered on Broadway at the Imperial Theater on October 23, 1972, and ran for 1,944 performances before closing on June 12, 1977. The original Broadway production won 5 Tony Awards: Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Ben Vereen), Best Direction of a Musical (Bob Fosse), Best Choreography (Bob Fosse), Best Scenic Design (Tony Walton) & Best Lighting Design (Jules Fisher). Pippin was revived on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre with previews starting on March 23, 2013, and an opening on April 25, 2013. The Broadway revival closed on January 4, 2015, and won 4 Tony Awards: Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical (Patina Miller), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Andrea Martin), and Best Direction of a Musical (Diane Paulus).

Even though Pippin is a story about Charlemagne and his first-born son, the theme of a young person seeking meaning and fulfillment in life is universal. As was the case with Pippin, after years of having his ego boosted with no real responsibilities, some children come to believe they are special and destined to do extraordinary things. They seek to find their "corner of the sky." Then, at some point, reality strikes and their dreams are shattered. This musical uses the premise of a mysterious performance troupe, led by a Leading Player, to tell the story of Pippin as he searches for something to do that is significant and worthwhile. He tries war, music, fornication, revolution, politics, the church, and finally settles down to work every day on a farm doing simple things with the love of a good woman, but none of these endeavors fulfill him. The Leading Player eventually offers Pippin the opportunity to go out in a blaze of glory in a manner people will never forget. But he declines and is lost having no good options left. Perhaps his grandmother was correct when she told him "you think too much." 

While Pippin's journey for fame and glory is over, every day many young people seek to climb to the summit of their own personal mountain only to settle or "compromise" when they finally give up their unrealistic dreams. While the musical is upbeat and in this production, immersive with actors dressed in colorful costumes performing stunts and dancing all around the audience members, the overall theme is quite depressing. Morning Glow, the song ending Act I, never hit me as hard as it did in this production. After all, it is sung just after Pippin kills his father in cold blood in a church and before he can ask for his knife back in Act II. I should also add that this musical is far more adult-themed and violent than it is generally promoted as being. Charlemagne kills thousands of his own peasants and while working with the Pope to convert nonbelievers, he offers heathens the choice between "Baptism or Beheading." Charlemagne's own wife sets him up for assassination by Pippin so she can advance her son's chances of becoming King. Finally, Pippin engages in orgies and has premarital sex with Catherine. Even Berthe, Pippin's grandmother, is a bit of a slut. In my opinion, caution should be used before exposing this show to young children. 

There were many extraordinary actors in this production but the standout performer, by far, was Jordan Yates, who played Lewis (Pippin's half brother who is second in line to the throne). Yates' portrayal of Lewis ("who loves weightlifting, wrestling, and above all else, himself") was absolutely hilarious. Jordan Yates is a charismatic and talented actor who never stepped out of character. It was my pleasure to watch him perform on stage and I hope to see more of him in future productions. Fastrada, his mother and current wife of King Charles, was masterfully portrayed by Haley Licata. She has a strong stage presence and a powerful voice. Robert Sock was King Charles The Great. His unique facial expressions and dance movements combined to make the part of Charlemagne his own. I was very sorry to see him killed near the end of Act I but I forgot that in Pippin "there is magic to do, just for you!". Kylie Lavrenchik brought innocence and light to the stage as Catherine, the widow who convinces Pippin to take up responsibilities as head of the household, until he gets bored and leaves. Finally, Samantha Jurman hit a home run playing Berthe, Pippin's exiled grandmother. She was an audience favorite!

Justin Autz, who played Pippin, and Mia Donneruno, who was Leading Player, are both good actors. They looked the part and wore costumes appropriate for their respective roles. However, Justin Autz lacked sex appeal and had trouble staying on key when singing some of the songs, and Mia Donneruno just wasn't strong enough to carry off Leading Player. I kept wondering how different the show would have been had Haley Licata been Leading Player. The supporting cast was very talented and I particularly liked the disembodied head, who was not credited in the program that had no bios for any of the actors. Karen Braun deserves credit both for her direction and for the choreography. Particularly impressive was the Fight Choreography, designed by Mark Maurice. Bravo! The costumes were magnificent. Credit for them goes to Leighann Martone and Karen Braun. Finally, since some of the actors (Pippin & Catherine) demanded appropriate spotlights, Megan Pietroforte gets credit for turning them on when required - on cue.

During this anecdotal revue, there are some funny lines. As Pippin sought fulfillment, he joined the Church hoping to be "touched by an angel" but "it wasn't an Angel who touched him." He tried the Arts, but every time Charlemagne slashed the budget, funding for the Arts was always the first to go. After a successful battle, Pippin participated in the rape and sacking ("an essential part of victory) but he found War Sex to be "empty and vacant" (he thought there would be "more plumes"). The King believed Lewis was "the perfect soldier - fierce and stupid." Pippin appeared shocked when Lewis spoke favorably about raping Visigoth women. Seeing Pippin's reaction, Lewis apologized saying, "I am sorry to have offended your bookish sensibilities." Pippin responded, "No, it's not that. I'm just shocked you like women now." Reflecting a universal conflict, Berthe confesses she has been banished from Court "due to a personality conflict with my daughter-in-law." In the end, The Guardian of Splendor invited Pippin the opportunity "to remain in our minds forever" by jumping from the highest height into the flames below where he would be "like the sun blazing in the sky at its zenith." Pippin declines and the troupe calls him a "compromiser." He considers going back to Catherine because he now understands,"If I'm never tied to anything, I'll never be free." On the other hand, he also recognizes "There is no color I can have on Earth that won't finally fade." No resolution is offered and the audience leaves the theater contemplating their own destiny and their search for meaning and fulfillment. 

For more information about upcoming productions of SoLuna Studio, visit their website at or call them at 631-761-6602.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of The Producers at Back Stage Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

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

The Producers
Book by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan
Music & Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Music arranged by Glen Kelly & Doug Besterman
Directed by Brian Stalter
Second Stage Productions
Back Stage Theatre
1750-A Merrick Avenue
Merrick, New York 11566
Reviewed 7/16/17

The Producers opened at the St. James Theatre on Broadway on April 19, 2001, and ran for 2,502 performances, closing on April 22, 2007. The show originally starred Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock and Matthew Broderick as Leo Bloom. The production won 12 Tony Awards, breaking the record held for 37 years by Hello, Dolly!, which had won 10. If you are unfamiliar with this musical, you should be forewarned that some of the jokes and themes are X-rated, and the book, written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, is extremely politically incorrect objectifying women and liberally making fun of homosexuals and other minorities. If you are easily offended, I think you might be well-advised to pass on seeing this musical. If you have a good sense of humor and enjoyed Mel Brooks' 1974 movie, Blazing Saddles, then this is the show for you.

Barry Kaplan does a fine job playing Max Bialystock, a famous Broadway producer who hasn't had a hit in quite some time. (He also made some bad decisions, like inventing Theater In The Square, where no one had a good seat.) He raises money for his productions (never putting in a dime of his own) by fooling around with women with walkers who are well past their prime. He remembers each one by the key-phrase they use during foreplay. For example, the very aggressive Hold Me - Touch Me, quite believably portrayed by Judy Mahoney, is interested in their role-playing as the Milk Maid and The Well-Hung Stable Boy. Exhausted, at one point Max suggests they play a game that doesn't involve any sex, like The Jewish Princess & Her Husband. Leo Bloom, a shy, virgin Accountant from Whitehall & Marks, happens to be in Max's office when Hold Me - Touch Me is visiting. He is shocked and yet intrigued by what he has witnessed. At some point, he makes an off-handed comment that a producer could make more money with a flop than with a hit by overselling shares in a production that quickly closes. Eventually, the two team up to carry out this scheme. Vin Maiello, who really dedicated himself to the role and eventually pulled it off, was almost twice the age the part calls for, and with silver hair, he had his work cut out for him to win over the audience. I am happy to report his performance was a great success. If only Barry Kaplan could have remembered who was Max and who was Leo, their teaming up would have been perfect.

Zoe Carpentieri shines as Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson, the Swedish bombshell who auditions for Max and Leo and is eventually hired to be their "secretary-slash-receptionist." After her audition for a part in "Springtime For Hitler," they tell her, "We may be sitting down my dear but we are giving you a standing ovation." After listening to her morning routine, they tell her she should get to the office at 11 a.m., the time "Ulla likes to have sex." Ulla and Leo eventually fall in love leaving Max the odd-man out. Hoping for a flop, Max and Leo buy the exclusive rights to "Springtime For Hitler" from Franz Liebkind, a former Nazi who coerces them to dance and take an oath. Max and Leo take the oath but somehow forget to raise the correct finger while taking it. Michael Janover nailed the part of Franz Liebkind both in accent and through his enthusiastically performed German dance numbers - "In Old Bavaria," "Der Gutten Tag Hop-Clop," and "Have You Ever Heard The German Band." To guarantee a flop, they filled half the audience with Jews and hired Roger DeBris, a flamboyant gay director, who intended to have the Nazis win World War II during the second act of the play. Franz Liebkind was originally cast to play Hitler but when he broke his leg, Roger took over. As you probably know, the play was a hit. This was despite the fact, as Leo observed, that our leading man "was so gay, he nearly flew away." The standout performances of the evening were by Michael Harrison Carlin, who embodied Roger DeBris, and by Michael Harrington, who played Carmen Ghia, DeBris' "common-law assistant." Their acting was one of the highlights of the show. We also learned that Adolf Hitler and Roger DeBris had something in common - both have "Elizabeth" as their middle name and were "descended from a long-time of British Queens."

After the success of "Springtime For Hitler," Leo Bloom decides he is going to turn himself into the authorities and beg for leniency. Max disagrees and they are fighting over possession of the accounting books when Roger & Carmen crash into their office and observe Leo mounting Max from the rear yelling, "Give it to me!" "Give it to me!" In one of the funniest lines of the show, Roger DeBris says, "That's what I call celebrating!" Upset that the play made his idol, Adolf Hitler, look bad, Franz Liebkind enters the office with a gun that eventually goes off. The police arrive and discover the two accounting books - one entitled "Show To The IRS" and the other entitled "Never Show To The IRS." Max tries to pose as an innocent Irishman but is arrested anyway. An African-American police officer tells Max they are serving something he might enjoy eating and Max's response was, "I have heard of Black Irish but this is ridiculous!" Leo escapes to Rio with Ulla and the two million dollars not confiscated by the police. They get married and have sex but eventually feel guilty and return to testify on Max's behalf. It does no good and Max and Leo are sentenced to five years in state prison. After having their sentences commuted by the Governor for bringing music and joy to their fellow prisoners, it's Bloom Day after all, and Max and Leo go on to produce many hit musicals including Prisoners Of Love, Katz, 47th Street, and South Passaic.

This production of The Producers featured a fine supporting cast. I particularly enjoyed the three young ladies who played Franz Liebkind's pigeons and Keith Jones who was eclectically cast as both a Storm Trooper having trouble pronouncing Hitler's name and as a Transgender Chorus Girl eager to offer up his services to Leo Bloom, who started off as "a weak and droopy daffodil" but ended up becoming a producer, which was everything he wasn't when he started out on this path. 

This production of The Producers is a huge success. I highly recommend you see it. Tickets cost only $20.00 and can be purchased at the door. Remaining performances are on Friday, July 21st at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, July 22nd at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, July 30th at 7:00 p.m. For more information, visit or call 516-996-0303. 

Applause! Applause! Review of The Producers at Back Stage Theatre by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of The Producers at Back Stage Theatre was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Producers
Book by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan
Music & Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Music arranged by Glen Kelly & Doug Besterman
Directed by Brian Stalter
Second Stage Productions
Back Stage Theatre
1750-A Merrick Avenue
Merrick, New York 11566
Reviewed 7/16/17

I thoroughly enjoyed The Producers performed by Second Stage Productions at the Back Stage Theatre. It was the theatrical equivalent of a home run with all the bases loaded: great book, great music, and great performances by a cast that sang and acted well.

The six main characters and the lesser characters were all perfect in their roles thanks to their selection and direction by Brian Stalter. Unfortunately, the Playbill was too bare bones and didn't provide any bio or background on the truly wonderful actors. In this Long Island Community Theater that is in the process of extensive renovation, the least underpaid actors can receive is recognition. For example, Roger DeBris was expertly played by Michael Harrison Carlin, an Equity professional, as an outrageous, incompetent gay cross-dressing director. On the other hand, Leo Bloom was played by Vin Maiello, a gifted amateur. Without makeup, the silver-haired, middle-aged Maiello successfully portrayed a much younger Leo Bloom who found a savior and mentor in Max Bialystock. Barry Kaplan was the wily, conniving Max Bialystock desperate for success of any kind when he was inspired by Bloom to commit outright fraud. Franz Liebkind is played as the perfect fool by Michael Janover, who has written "Springtime For Hitler," an outrageous musical paying tribute to his idol Adolf Hitler. Carmen Ghia, the partner of Roger DeBris, acted by Michael Harrington as a character so light in the loafers he almost floated off the stage (remarkably beating out Keith Jones in that category). Zoe Carpentieri exuded sex appeal as Swedish bombshell Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson.

The second tier actors were equally well-cast and performed their roles with gusto, enthusiasm, and authenticity. Staci Ertel and Samantha Szillus were perfect as the bookend Usherettes. Judy Mahoney was quite believable as the "Hold Me - Touch Me" aged granny investor that Max Bialystock must sacrifice himself to in order to get financing for his plays. Chris Williamson and Keith Jones performed several roles quite capably and even director Brian Stalter joined in on the fun portraying the Judge and Leo Bloom's boss. The show girls who performed a multitude of roles and costume changes were enthralling and enthusiastically played by Nadina Espinosa, Camilla Montoya, Shannan Lydon, Meghan Jacobsen, Emily Missbach, and Jenna Kavaler. As for the remainder of the cast, there wasn't a clinker in the batch. 

The set was well-designed by Vin Maiello, who also played Leo Bloom. The sound by Laura Stalter was initially too loud at the beginning but was adjusted to a more reasonable level. In addition, someone's microphone kept scratching creating a significant distraction at numerous times throughout the evening. Sebastien Diaquoi's Lighting Design highlighted the actors well. Peter Berenberg has his job as House Manager cut out for him. Second Stage Productions has just taken over its space at the Back Stage Theatre. The theatre was well-air-conditioned but there was only one bathroom for the entire cast and audience. There appeared to be new seats but none large enough for a big-boned person such as myself. The actors could also use secure storage lockers for their costumes and it would have been nice if refreshments were available during intermission. Since the front door of the Back Stage Theatre faces west, the sun came glaring into the theatre from under the door which was quite distracting until the sun set. 

Despite these minor setbacks and limitations, my spirit soared as I experienced the baseball equivalent of a perfect game. Do not miss this show! It is well-crafted and brilliantly performed by a great ensemble cast. In my opinion, it's a Once In A Lifetime Experience! Additional performances of The Producers are Friday, July 21st at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, July 22nd at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, July 30th at 7:00 p.m.. Tickets cost $20.00 and can be purchased at the door. For more information, visit or call 516-996-0303. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Silver Lining presented by The Singing Experience at The Triad by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Silver Lining presented by The Singing Experience at The Triad was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Silver Lining
The Singing Experience Workshop #481
Director: Linda Amiel Burns
Associate Director: Joan Adams
Music Director: Richard Danley
Technical Director: Shannon Epstein
The Triad
158 West 72nd Street
New York, New York 10023
Reviewed 6/19/17

Linda Amiel Burns has been running The Singing Experience workshops for the past 40 years. The result has been that over 5,000 individuals have fulfilled their dream of performing on stage before family and friends in a supportive atmosphere. It is not so much about launching a new singing career than it is to gain self-confidence and to take steps to find happiness in your own life. As the charismatic and loving Ms. Burns says, "Music transforms you and makes you feel good." In this fun workshop, participants "sing, meet each other and find a song to perform that means something to each of them." After the show is over, the singers get a video tape of the performance and have a wrap party in Ms. Burns' apartment. The supportive Richard Danley (with "golden fingers that play in every key") is the Musical Director who works with each singer to bring out the best in them. Ms. Burns says he "transforms and transcends." Shannon Epstein, the Technical Director, made sure the lighting and sound were perfect for each performer's "big night." In the end, the "new stars" made new friends and had a fun and fulfilling experience. Many participants return to take additional workshops and at the end of every show, Singing Experience alumni are invited on stage to take part in the show's finale.

Family and friends of each performer were seated together and treated to free snacks prior to the show. Everyone was extremely friendly and in a very good mood since they were there to see a loved one or friend perform. The opening and closing numbers were sung as a group. We were told the singers did not know in which order they would appear on stage so they had to be ready when called upon. Each performer greeted the audience, gave a brief bio of what they do in real life and, after singing a song or two, introduced the next person up with a fictitious, over-the-top bio intended to inspire each singer to live up to their potential. This method of presentation didn't always work out since some of the performers forgot the names of their new friends. One particularly embarrassing moment was when Martin P. Klein forgot Michelle Yaskel's name and didn't seem to be particularly concerned about the faux pas. Some of the performers were dressed to the nines, while others didn't take the time to focus on anything else other than their singing.

The entire cast opened the show singing "Look For The Silver Lining." Particularly impressive newcomers included Janine Brunetti ("How Far I'll Go"), Shari Passales ("Nice N' Easy"/"That Face"), Georgia Buchanan ("How Are Things In Glocca Morra?"), and Michelle Joy Yaskel ("I Gotta Be Me"), who announced she got her start singing publicly at member events sponsored by the Beaux Arts Society, Inc. (founded 1857). Professional performers contributed to the evening's entertainment - Linda Amiel Burns ("Everybody Sing!"), Richard Danley ("The Haunting Memory"), and Bill Dyszel ("Embraceable You"), who sang at The New York City Opera. Others who love to sing included Vincent Blier ("Ain't No Sunshine"), Suzannah Grady ("Before The Parade Passes By"), Martin P. Klein ("Pretty Girl"/"Toot Toot Tootsie"), Joe Medeiros, Jr. ("Angel"), Rosemary Saporito ("Love Me With All Your Heart"), Bonnie Schneider ("Some People"), Mary Carol Tedeschi ("Strong Woman"), and Bill Thomas ("Easy To Be Hard"). The closing number, "On A Clear Day," contained the following line Ms. Burns wanted everyone in the audience to pay particular attention to: "Let the glow of your being outshine every star!"

If you have ever dreamt of singing on stage, I would encourage you to consider signing up for an upcoming workshop. The Singing Experience is best explained in the following note in the evening's program: "The Singing Experience is a complete performance workshop where you will learn everything you need to be a well-rounded, confident performer - on stage and in life. Through singing, you will embark on an extraordinary voyage of self-discovery. In a nurturing atmosphere, you'll learn more than technique; you will dare to take risks, soar above your imagined limitations, and discover the artist within. Come join the legions of The Singing Experience Alumni. Some are entertainment professionals and others sing for the thrill of it, but all have undertaken this joyous adventure of challenge, commitment, and fulfillment and learned to express their innermost self through singing. Give yourself a gift of song. The bliss is immediate, the benefits long-lasting." For more information about The Singing Experience, visit their website at or call 212-315-3500.

Linda Amiel Burns, the Director of The Singing Experience is a 2-time MAC & TRU Winner, who currently serves as President of the American Popular Song Society. She is also a Writer/Critic for Theater Pizzazz, Theater Life, and Theater Scene. Her dedication to all who have participated in The Singing Experience is admirable and praiseworthy. She has given it her all and has helped transform the lives of the people she has met. Brava!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Lauren Yee's In A Word at The Cherry Lane Theatre by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Lauren Yee's In A Word at The Cherry Lane Theatre was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

In A Word
Written by Lauren Yee
Directed by Tyne Rafaeli
The Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street
New York, New York 10014
Reviewed 7/2/17

In A Word delivered a thorough introspective of what it can be like to work with and raise difficult children. The play showcases a child seen as adorable in one moment and then troublesome in another. The juxtaposition of this child's different phases left me wondering whether I felt bad for any of the characters at all. At first, I empathized with the parents who had lost their little boy. The situation seemed so heartbreaking. A child had gone missing and his two loving parents were unable to move on, but as the sequences of the play revealed a clearer picture of the circumstances of the household, I felt like the audience was challenged. We were confronted with the question of whether the value of the loss and the parent's remorse changed with the knowledge that the child was mentally handicapped.

The play began in the living room of the Hamlet family. The husband, Guy, steps in to find the wife, Fiona, searching through boxes. It's the second anniversary of the disappearance of their adopted little boy, Tristan, and as Fiona frantically ransacks the apartment looking for evidence of their child, Guy tries to get her to go out for dinner for the first time since the tragic incident two years ago. Jose Joaquin Perez's performance as Guy was particularly patient and respectable alongside a clever Laura Ramadei. Perez brought a lot of emotion to his part as he made impassioned appeals to his wife. It makes sense right off the bat that he wants her to move on from their lost child, but she has a hard time letting go. He is concerned for her, but he can't understand why she has been so listless these past two years. He tells her, "This has to stop" and in almost the same breath, reminds her, "Was there something that you wanted to tell me?"

These appeals launch a series of flashbacks that became the main substance of the play. About every 3-5 minutes, the couple would say some lines of dialogue that would cue a flashback sequence and an extremely talented Justin Mark, who played a myriad of roles including the role of Tristan, joined the couple on stage. His comedic timing was impeccable. As a detective, Justin mockingly plays with a cantaloupe from Fiona who thought she had met the kidnapper at the grocery store. She has some trouble when she first sees Justin Mark, the detective because the kidnapper and Tristan were also played by Justin Mark. He says, "I just have one of those faces." It is revealed later that Fiona never saw the kidnapper on the day of Tristan's disappearance, but she is clearly hung up on the loss of her child. She not only hallucinates meetings with the supposed kidnapper, but she also paints a glossy picture over the time that she was living with Tristan. Fiona tells the newspapers that she "loved him" and that she "misses him very much," but Guy tells the audience, "funny, I never remember hearing those words (when Tristan was around)."

One of Fiona's favorite lines to young Tristan is "take care of your things or you're going to lose them." Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like Fiona took her own advice. As Guy brings up, Tristan was a much more difficult child than Fiona would let the media know. She likes to tell how great Tristan was, but in reality, he was "difficult." That's what Guy remembers hearing. At school, Tristan was a nuisance, and Fiona had to take him into her own class to keep him from going into special education. It is actually unclear as to why she does this considering that Tristan's behavior is revealed to actually be pretty horrible. He has trouble controlling is bowels. He has trouble learning. He can't make friends. His own father recognizes his developmental disabilities and calls him at one time "retarded." Fiona tries to avoid this word, but she can't seem to come to grips with the reality of Tristan's situation. After a particularly traumatic "picture day," the school gives her a leave of absence and she loses Tristan in the parking lot of a gas station when she stepped in to grab a candy bar. She finally reveals this to her husband, Guy, who reminds her that "even if we can't get justice, we can get better."

At the beginning of the play, I felt remorseful, but when I learned more about how Fiona handled her son's situation and education, I felt a lot less empathetic towards her and unfortunately, her child. It seems to me like she wanted to remain in denial rather than make tangible efforts to help Tristan get better, more helpful attention. That being said, I also wonder if I'd still feel as badly for the missing child as I did at the start if I knew then that he had these difficulties. I definitely feel bad for the husband and father, Guy, who has stayed patiently by his wife's side for these two years, but there is an element of "you reap what you sew" to the whole play. In A Word will keep you entertained for sure, but it may also leave you scratching your head at times at the behavior of the two parents. It's well-written, fluid, and makes you think. If you're looking for that, get tickets at or call OvationTix at 866-811-4111.

Applause! Applause! Review of Bastard Jones at The Cell Theatre by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Bastard Jones at The Cell Theatre was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Bastard Jones
Book, Lyrics & Direction by Marc Acito
Music & Lyrics by Amy Engelhardt
Choreography by Joe Barros
The Cell Theatre
338 West 23rd Street
New York, New York 10011
Reviewed 6/30/17

Bastard Jones started out with a bang and ended with an earth shaking finale. Simply put, well done. The play told the oft-comedic tale of Tom Jones, a 1749 story of a bastard ward to an English squire named Allworthy. After release, the book was condemned for having been lewd and was credited with causing a number of earthquakes. The cultural commentary still resonated today with a well-constructed plot revolving around the love affair between the bastard Jones and Sophia Shepherd, a Reverend's daughter. My initial thought was that this exemplary off-Broadway production seems poised to make a push toward larger audiences. Marc Acito, the writer of Allegiance, did a superb job of weaving amusing action between entertaining songs setting the stage for gripping reveals. He and lyricist Amy Engelhardt were aided by an energetic cast with strong vocal talent that provided us ample opportunity to bask in awe.

"When a low-born's heart can bleed such kindness, it makes us think of God," sings Bridget, Squire Allworthy's frequently ill sister, played by the lovely Cheryl Stern. She ponders the fate of young Tom Jones just before she makes a pivotal decision to aid him by unveiling a secret that may shatter her own reputation. It's at this moment we learn the most about each character. Squire Allworthy has fallen ill after stopping to aid a pregnant woman in the street. Tom, his bastard ward played by an exceptional Evan Ruggiero, remained by his side. Meanwhile, his true nephew Mr. Blifil, brought to life by a witty Matthew McGloin, drank and conspired with Reverend Shepherd to wed the Reverend's daughter. Reverend Shepard, played by Adam B. Shapiro, was one of the most hilarious actors in this musical. He played the role of the chief antagonist as he shouted Damnation and Fornication as Tom Jones vied for his daughter's virtue. So, what is Bridget contemplating as she watches Tom by her brother's side?

Tom has done himself no favors to this point. He slept with a local beauty, Molly, given cheeky flair by Alie B. Gorrie, who became pregnant while his first love Sophia was away. Sophia loves Tom too, but she is concerned by his promiscuity and drunkenness. She confesses her love and sexual awakening with one of the most memorable songs of the night, proclaiming, "I felt a tingle." However, he has an honest and kind heart which Bridget intends to reward. She writes a short letter before dying, which she handed to the Reverend. He gives it to Mr. Blifil, her son, who after reading it quickly disposes of it. When Tom rushes out to share the news that the Squire is alive and then heads out for a night on the town, Blifil seizes the moment to report Tom's misdemeanors to Squire Allworthy as evidence that Tom was not at his bedside during the bleak moments. As Allworthy issues a sentence of banishment, the song "Born To Be Hanged" is sung with gusto by all. At the same time the sentence is being issued, Tom discovers that Molly has been sleeping with the Reverend. Tom breaks it off with her so he can be with Sophia. Before he can rejoice, he discovers he has been banished.

This sequence of events sets up the remainder of the play. Tom saves a Mrs. Waters on the road, and Sophia runs away to avoid Blifil. The two meet in an Inn on the road, and when Sophia catches Tom fornicating with Mrs. Waters, she flees to London. Tom chases after her but is unsuccessful in persuading her to hear his pleas as Lady Bellaston arrives. Crystal Lucus-Perry stole the second act with a wickedly stunning portrayal of Lady Bellaston. She commands a lord and lover to "Have another oyster, dear" until she is satisfied. She harbors Sophia with her cousin, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, and lusts for Tom, who had been promised an audience with Sophia. Tom breaks it off with Lady Bellaston, who, for revenge, conspires to end his life by framing him for the murder of Mr. Fitzpatrick who has been chasing after his wife. As the executioner prepares to carry out his responsibility, the fates align to reveal what Bridget had said in that letter. Tom Jones is actually Bridget's son with the former schoolmaster Partridge, who had become Tom's companion. Upon learning this, Allworthy grants Tom his estate and the other characters reverse their opinions of the former villain. Even Reverend Shepherd admits to his affair with Molly and condones his daughter's marriage to Tom Jones.

I hope you have a chance to see Bastard Jones while it is still running Off-Broadway. The Cell Theatre has brought in a talented cast who added a lot to the story with strong chemistry on stage. My pulse raced as the plot unfolded, and I couldn't be happier with my decision to go see Bastard Jones. I do believe that the jokes about sex never go too far for a modern audience and would be fit for almost anyone over the age of 18. Frankly, you should see Bastard Jones now, before it moves to a larger theatre and the price per ticket soars. If you are looking for a musical comedy that will give you more than a few smiles, Bastard Jones is for you. It will be all the rage soon! Even I hope to see it again! Tickets can be purchased for $40.00 at or by calling 1-800-838-3006.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Michelle DellaFave's Cool Burn at The Metropolitan Room by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Michelle DellaFave's Cool Burn at The Metropolitan Room was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Cool Burn
Starring Michelle DellaFave
Musical Director: Richie Vitale
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 6/16/17

Michelle DellaFave looked stunning in a tight-fitting blue dress especially considering this accomplished woman appeared on Dean Martin's television series, "The Golddiggers" in the late 1960s. Her voice shocked the audience too as Michelle consistently displayed an impressive range that once prompted Dean to say, "this girl can sing!" Her show, Cool Burn, covered a number of stalwart choices that were popular during the 60s and 70s interspersed with Michelle's off-hand wit. Transitioning as smoothly between octaves as us normal-voiced people change channels on a television, Michelle reminded us she was indeed human by often introducing her songs in various voices such as a Russian accent for the comical classic, "Vodka." She was joined on stage by the Richie Vitale Quartet, which included a pianist, double bass, trumpet, and drummer. Richie, on the trumpet, directed the show and dazzled with a number of trumpet solos to which DellaFave danced.

Joined during the first song by a pair of young, male, well-dressed backup singers, Michelle shined from the moment she stepped on stage. She set the tone for the night with the heartfelt classic, "Am I The Same Girl" (Barbara Acklin, 1968). During the song, Michelle's backup singers danced and played off of her in mock flirtation as she asked them, "Why don't you stop and think it over?" While the dance moves drew a few hoots and hollers from the crowd, they remained on the classy side of suggestive. Richie Vitale also entertained the audience with the first of many trumpet solos to which Michelle danced looking like she was having the time of her life.

DellaFave credited her infectious smile and fun attitude to her father who liked Frank Sinatra. She, too, was raised in New Jersey like the great star. She really showed off her range with "At Long Last Love," a song Frank Sinatra popularized (originally written by Cole Porter in 1938). She went from sultry to aggressive as she jumped octaves in bursts. Things went along very smoothly through the first few numbers but when DellaFave slowed it down for Ella Fitzgerald's "Midnight Sun" (1957), it was a little difficult to understand her. The song had a beautiful melody, but at times she failed to sufficiently project. 

Michelle left the song behind and the genre by switching it up to the 1966 pop hit, "Got To Get You Into My Life" by The Beatles. It was a curious addition given the tone of most of the music, but fit the theme of mid-century hits. The crowd loved it too because the backup dancers came back to fight over the darling diva on stage. She sent them off, but called one of the two back with a tender, "Por Favor, I need the magic touch of your amour" ("Por Favor" by Doris Day 1965). The blend flowed well and allowed a young guitarist named Thayer who had joined in on the edge of the stage to join in for a solo duet with DellaFave. His pick danced along the guitar as Michelle presented "But Beautiful" (Nat King Cole, 1958) in a much faster pace than the original was performed.

Michelle continued to add twists and turns to her show's theme, which seemed to fit in terms of style, but not necessarily with any particular story. When she asked the audience to start snapping, I struggled to think of what song might be coming next until I recognized Michael Buble's "Fever." What a lovely way to burn indeed! The dancers came in and off stage for the next few numbers, but the young hunks' gyrations garnered special attention when Michelle toyed with them. It was fun to watch and I smirked, but she easily drew out the most laughter from the crowd with her rendition of "Vodka." Her dynamic range and off-kilter dancing made it a particularly fitting choice. It displayed her style and personality well.

For the most part, Michelle impressed with a vocal range that few other singers could match. At times this stretched her voice, but she had such depth combined with the ability to push herself that the occasional break in her voice disappeared between the throaty crescendos and high-pitched doodles. Michelle was truly a wonder to enjoy, and her song choices seemed to fit her personality and voice. She did stray out of the theme of the 60s and recalling her time on the Dean Martin Show a little bit for some more contemporary songs, but they were good choices to share who she was and to further showcase her talent. To find out more about Michelle, visit her website at

Saturday, June 24, 2017

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

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

On The Air
Book & Lyrics by Robert Farruggia & Cristina Farruggia
Music by Robert Farruggia
Directed by Greg Santos
Music Director: Brandon Magid
Music Supervisor: Paul Masse
Choreographer: Danielle Mia Diniz
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11215
Reviewed 5/20/17

On The Air is a promising new musical inspired by Jack & Loretta Clemens, a real-life sibling Vaudeville duo that went on to star in Radio & Television. Robert & Cristina Farruggia, a modern-day, brother/sister collaborative team, wrote the book & lyrics together, while Robert Farruggia composed the music. He and his sister Cristina also play Jack & Loretta Clemens on stage, making On The Air a musical with a unique twist, causing me to wonder whether the tensions and sibling rivalries portrayed on stage occurred as the Farruggia's were writing this play and deciding how to promote it. The play is an homage to the golden age of musical theater. It has gone through a number of prominent festivals, most recently presented at The York Theatre's Developmental Reading Series, where it was directed by Tony Nominee Hunter Foster. The story deals with major changes in society and entertainment throughout the early half of the 20th century, but at its core, the story focuses on the siblings' relationship and the dreams each has for their future. 

The most outstanding actor in this production was Aaron Riesebeck, a very talented, charismatic performer who played Fred Tupper, Loretta Clemens' future wife. He is extraordinary in every way and is an absolute delight to watch as his very presence brings light and life to the stage. Also worthy of note was Tommy J. Dose, who was Bob White, the Agent. While his role was not as complex as the others, he was still quite believable and carried out the part well. Mary Chesterman's performance as Mrs. Clemens/Old Loretta was notable, and Cristina & Robert Farruggia's portrayal of Loretta & Jack Clemens, respectively, rang true but unfortunately, they will need to be replaced if this show ends up being Broadway-bound. The show was well-directed by Greg Santos, and Danielle Mia Diniz deserves credit for the choreography. Unfortunately, only half the songs in this musical were tuneful enough to entertain and the Ensemble was uninspiring. The book only needs minor changes as the story rings true on many levels. It takes a great effort to launch a new musical and Cristina & Robert Farruggia deserve credit for their continuing and worthwhile efforts.

On The Air is not quite ready for prime time but its story will resonate with all who have tried to make a living in the entertainment industry. The strings of family ties and the desire of some to have their own family reflect the struggles many will encounter when their careers don't quite take off as expected. One-Take-Tupper may still have her day in the sun but the musical requires quite a bit more effort before Procter & Gamble, or other sponsors may decide to invest in it. For more information about On The Air, visit 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Jennifer Haley's The Nether at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Jennifer Haley's The Nether at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Nether
Written by Jennifer Haley
Directed by Joe Rubino
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 5/19/17

This play takes you into a dystopian future where there are very few beautiful things left to experience in the "real world." However, the sights, sounds, and smells of the Old Victorian Era, or any era, can be experienced through The Nether, an enhanced virtual reality, that, for a price, can enable you to visit, or live, in this alternative universe. Some people have chosen to "cross over" placing their bodies on life support and living full-time in an alternate reality of their choice. These individuals are called "Shades." They live out their lives as characters created in the virtual reality universe. The settings can be elaborate or as simple as an arm-chair set near a fireplace making for a cozy atmosphere to be able to read books or poems uninterrupted by other human beings or by the darkness that has befallen the earth where a real garden has become a prized possession and where all students now get their degrees by studying online.

Only adults can consent to enter certain parts of The Nether, where there is no limit to the choice of characters they can embody. Are you a grossly overweight elderly man? In The Nether, you can be a twenty-one-year-old super stud or an 18-year old female model. Perhaps you would like to be a 12-year-old girl or a successful businessman. Would you like to be in a simulation where you are fighting for your life and are in a kill-or-be-killed situation? That option is available and if your character gets killed - fear not - it will regenerate in a few seconds and you're back in business. In The Nether, no one knows your true identity so others will interact with your chosen character without questioning who is the man or woman behind the character that day. In fact, in certain games, a number of individuals may play the same character at different times. It's all up to you and the game designer. In addition, what may be illegal in the real world is permissible in The Nether. Fantasies and fetishes of all sorts can be experienced by those who have chosen to become engaged in said situations. Adult consent is required in all circumstances and those who play a character who is sexually assaulted or raped has specifically made the decision to see what it feels like to be the subject of such an encounter. No Harm. No Foul.

But herein enters the morality police who believe "there should be a line - even in our own imagination." A new online congress of participating game-players has organized to start targeting and shutting down simulations they find offensive. It's the age-old argument all over again. Should rational adults be permitted to do as they please so long as they do not directly harm others, or does the state have an interest in punishing deviant behavior and guiding you to live and think in a manner that will promote good manners, strong families, and a productive workforce? In The Nether, a real-life pedophile has created a virtual reality called The Hideaway where other pedophiles, who might have otherwise assaulted real children, can act out their fantasies without harm or consequence. The investigating detective, intent on finding the location of Papa's server, visits the netherworld and finds herself curiously addicted to the point where she admits she never wanted to leave. That doesn't stop her from threatening the participants, shutting down the simulation, and freeing the pedophiles to find real prey in the real world, "even though given children's addiction to the internet, very few girls and boys play on the street anymore." Yes, that was one of Papa's jokes. But it's not a joke that an ever expanding bureaucracy would find its way to regulating every aspect of the internet pushing a puritanical agenda bent on controlling one's thoughts and fantasies.

The shame and self-loathing expressed by the pedophiles in this play reminded me of the self-hatred homosexuals had for their own deviant behavior in decades past. If I like men instead of women, God must have made a mistake. Perhaps I was intended to have been born a woman. Gay pride was unthinkable and the only people "out" were those too flamboyant to remain hidden in a closet. It might be pushing it to call pedophilia a "sexual orientation" but it is certainly learned behavior that has become a fetish. A psychologist might say the man or woman has not fully matured or advanced to leaving childhood fantasies behind, but for some people that isn't easy. During puberty, teenage boys and girls find sexual pleasure fantasizing and thinking about others boys and girls their age that they would like to be with. Those thoughts are reinforced through masturbation and for many of these boys and girls, they never lose that attraction to teenagers when they become adults. That is why older men like younger women and some cougars prefer younger men. These individuals are not sick or depraved, except in the eyes of current societal norms. There may even be a genetic component involved when older men are attracted to younger women who can bear them healthier offspring. You may also want to take into consideration that for tens of thousands of years, our ancestors tended not to live past 30 and that the onset of puberty was a signal that a young man or young woman was ready to reproduce. 

In my opinion, the playwright got it wrong when she combined the fantasy of a pedophile to bond and perhaps sleep with younger people with their alleged desire to murder them. What the playwright doesn't understand is that pedophiles only kill their prey because they can never trust that they won't talk and turn them into the police when confronted by their parents or a caregiver. If there was no chance of being caught, there would be no need to murder them. The worst that would happen over time is that the pedophile would lose interest as the child gets older. Another point that should be made is that if the relationship is consensual, in that it doesn't involve physical force, the bulk of the psychological trauma takes place after the relationship is exposed. When two consenting adults are role-playing in a virtual reality universe, even if force is used, the possibility of psychological trauma is almost non-existent since the participant, if he doesn't like the experience, can simply choose not to return to that game. The victim never loses control in The Hideaway.     

All of these issues and many others are addressed in The Nether. The cast, which includes Chris Cardona (Sims/Papa), Frank Danko (Cedric Doyle), Jesse Lyons (Woodnut), Elizabetta Malagon (Iris), and Nikki Silva (Morris) is very strong. John Dzienius deserves special credit for the set design. Whatever your opinions may be on the topics raised, I guarantee The Nether will give you something to talk about and will make a strong impression on you. As you contemplate the future, you may wish to keep this quotation in mind, "Just because it's virtual, doesn't mean it's not real."

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Frans Bloem's Beyond Borders at The Metropolitan Room by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Frans Bloem's Beyond Borders at The Metropolitan Room was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Beyond Borders
Starring Frans Bloem
Musical Director: Steve Sandberg
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 5/26/17

We drank. Frans sang. Only a handful of us may have been able to stop clapping long enough to take another drink. He went to find a missing guest performer. We chatted briefly. A woman appeared on stage without introduction. Who was this mysterious woman? Who did the wildly entertaining Frans sneak in and out with barely a word from his own mouth? An alternate persona by the name of Maxime who turned an already good show into a great one leaving an indelible impression on the crowd. Trotting in on 7-inch pumps, affectionately nicknamed "stripper stilettos," Frans really strutted his stuff whilst thanking his "mommy" and "poppy" for giving him great legs even if he didn't have their help in achieving his goals. Raucous fun and laughter ensued.

But my, oh my, has Frans Bloem come a long way since starting as a street performer in Paris at age 17. He may have once as a young man traded washing dishes in the City of Lights for washing dishes in the City That Never Sleeps, but he certainly doesn't have to wash anyone else's dishes today. Since that first move from The Netherlands to Paris, he has now become a worldwide boulevardier even donning an expertly tailored white jacket he was gifted for performing in Hong Kong, By showing a myriad of crowds, in a variety of languages, he can put on a show, Frans has been able to overcome daunting obstacles. When he first moved to Paris, he couldn't pay 7 francs in 1971 to upgrade from a small flute called a Piccolo. He told us on this first flute, he used to sing the song "Pigalle." Then, with a skilled piano player to his right, he asked us singing the same song, "Would you like to visit Pigalle with me!" Frans took us back to another time, with his nostalgic touch sharing songs that spoke to him over the years such as "It Will Be My Day." He also gave us a taste of his own personality setting the stage for Maxime by singing songs like "La Boheme" and joking that "he was Bohemian already."

Using his language skills combined with his own infectious personality, Frans created a certain level of mystique even before donning the white gown and Maxime personality. He blended French with Dutch and German, joked about his accent sticking even after 40 years away from Holland, and then sang the Spanish song "Sabor a Mi." Not bad for a former dishwasher! Few people ever dream of having such a successful career. Few people can afford to finance a life in New York City by performing as a singer. Frans proved he earned it by doing a little bit of everything. The majority of the songs were in English and some were age-old classics such as "Brother Can You Spare A Dime." Although no longer contemporary, the majority of the audience recognized them immediately. Frans' story about how he became the man he is today took on a special resonance when, dressed as a woman, he sang, "What Makes A Man A Man," for which he received enthusiastic applause.

Regardless of song choice, Frans combined a flair for the dramatic with his keen sense of the exotic. He guided us into another world with his uncanny ability to sense the mood of the crowd. As the show progressed, he grew more flamboyant and pulled us deeper into his world and experiences as a world citizen. Frans became more and more animated playing off our emotional excitement. He moved along the stage, called out members of the audience, and threw his hands out in gestures at powerful moments. The excellent pianist, Steve Sandberg, helped to create this sense of a building atmosphere. His hands danced up and down the scales on the piano. As the choruses ended, Steve gave a little twist of his own that helped create a sense of harmony between piano and performer. He gradually got more daring with each of Frans' striking gestures giving the sense that the pair have been working together for quite a long time.

I greatly enjoyed Frans' show, and it seemed like everyone who attended was brought to life by Frans' smooth voice. His confidence fell off of him like feathers from an angel's wings. I do hope Frans stays home in New York and performs for us a few more times, but I would completely understand if he took a gig in Amsterdam. If you have a chance to see his new show, Beyond Borders, see it. Even if you are expecting the surprises he has in store, you will be impressed. Thank you, Frans, for living a true New York Story and for showing us the mantra "all are welcome" means something to someone somewhere. For more information regarding Frans Bloem, you can visit his website at