Author Archive for David Hurst – Page 2

Significant Other ★★★★☆

Gideon Glick, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Sas Goldberg & Lindsay Mendez in “Significant Other” (photo: Joan Marcus)

Booth Theatre
February 14, 2017 thru April 23, 2017
Opened March 2, 2017

Written by Joshua Harmon
Directed by Tripp Cullman

After a critically acclaimed, off-Broadway run in the summer of 2015 at the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre, Joshua Harmon’s heartbreaking comedy, Significant Other, transfers to a Broadway run at the Booth Theatre.   Starring the marvelous Gideon Glick in a breakout bid for stardom, Significant Other tells the story of Jordan Berman, a gay New Yorker in his late 20’s played with anxiety-ridden delight by Glick, and his posse of single BFF’s: Kiki, a dizzyingly daffy Sas Goldberg; Vanessa, the hilarious Rebecca Naomi Jones; and Laura, Jordan’s soulmate played to perfection by the gifted Lindsay Mendez.  Their friendship bond is unbreakable but then, one by one, Kiki, Vanessa and Laura pair up with straight men and get married, leaving Jordan searching for his own man to love.  Left on his own to deal with the fear that comes with abandonment and self-doubt, Jordan wonders what’s wrong with him as he grows more lost with each friend’s wedding.

Along the way Jordan takes care of his sassy grandmother, deftly portrayed by Broadway legend Barbara Barrie (the original Company), who is having memory problems and tends to repeat stories when her grandson stops in for a visit.  But she understands Joshua is struggling to connect and dispenses grandmotherly wisdom with equal doses of love and common sense.  Barrie’s scenes with Glick are the emotional center of Significant Other and it’s a thrill seeing this indispensable actress fully inhabiting such a pivotal character.  Filling out the cast are Luke Smith who plays one of Jordan’s gay co-workers, as well as handsome John Behlmann who plays Will, another man in Jordan’s office who’s probably straight but could possibly be gay that Jordan falls for and then makes a fool out of himself over.

Smartly directed by Trip Cullman on a terrific set by Mark Wendland, Harmon’s Significant Other breaks new ground with the depiction of gay men and their relationships, women and the way they interact with their gay male friends, as well as the challenges gay men face as they enter their 30’s and 40’s.  It’s an unromantic romantic-comedy, of sorts, and Harmon’s perceptive and bracing dialogue – so different than his lacerating Bad Jews – resonates deeply while hitting multiple nerves.  There’s a scene near the end of Significant Other where Jordan and Laura finally “have it out” with each other in a fight that pulls no punches and takes no prisoners.  It’s painful to watch because it’s so authentic and it’s an argument that, undoubtedly, many of us have had with our own friends.  But Significant Other isn’t afraid to push those buttons and speak ugly truths.  It also lets us know that not knowing what lies ahead can be okay, too.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street ★★★★★

Siobhán McCarthy & Jeremy Secomb in “Sweeney Todd” (photo: Rex Features, via Associated Press)

Barrow Street Theatre
February 14, 2017 thru (open ended)
Opened March 1, 2017

Book by Hugh Wheeler
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Bill Buckhurst
Choreographed by Georgina Lamb
Music Supervision & Arrangements by Benjamin Cox

Any new production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s masterpiece, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is cause for celebration, but the reports from the 2014 Tooting Arts Club’s production in London, staged inside Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop – the city’s oldest continuously operating pie shop – sounded simply too delicious for the show not to transfer to New York.  And now it has, to the Barrow Street Theatre in Greenwich Village.  At Harrington’s, an intimate audience of 35 people watched Sweeney slit throats as they nibbled their pies, but at Barrow Street a more robust audience of 130 will get to enjoy the carnage and, yes, they’ll get to eat pies, too.  And for the record, the pies (either chicken or vegan) by former White House Executive Pastry Chef William ‘Bill’ Yosses (dubbed ‘The Crust Master’ by President Obama) are scrumptious!

But you’re probably asking yourself, “how’s the show?”  How can anyone do Sweeney with a cast of 8 and an orchestra of 3?  The answers are: “it’s incredible,” and “with imagination, that’s how!”  Reprising their roles from London, New York audiences will get to enjoy Jeremy Secomb and Siobhán McCarthy as Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett thru April 9th and, starting on April 11th, Broadway veterans Norm Lewis and Carolee Carmello will assume the roles.  The other roles changing hands on April 11th will be the Beggar Woman/Adolfo Pirelli (Stacie Bono will replace Betsy Morgan), Judge Turpin (Jamie Jackson will replace Duncan Smith) and Tobias (John-Michael Lyles will replace Joseph Taylor).  Performing with both companies are Matt Doyle as Anthony, Alex Finke as Johanna and Brad Oscar as The Beadle.

Dispensing with a synopsis of the plot (if you’re reading this you already know it), the first thing you’ll notice as you enter the Barrow Street Theatre (formerly Greenwich House) is the interior has been completely reconfigured to approximate the Harrington Pie shop in London.  To say it’s unrecognizable would be an understatement.  Audience sit at communal benches and the cast performs around, about and often on top of you as the show progresses.  It’s up-close and personal, creating a thrilling atmosphere to see a show as brutal and immediate as Sweeney Todd.  As for Sondheim’s brilliant score, you might think it would have its impact lessened by being orchestrated for piano (Matt Aument), violin (Tomoko Akaboshi) and clarinet (Michael Favreau) but – amazingly – it has a new clarity and immediacy, distilled as it is down to its basic elements.  Of course, purists will miss the strings and Jonathan Tunick’s irreplaceable orchestrations.  But I would urge you to give this spare, stripped down orchestration by Benjamin Cox a chance; I suspect it will win you over as it did me.

For its part, the cast is superb.  Secomb brings a malevolent, psychotic underpinning to his Sweeney that’s as harrowing as it is exciting.  True, some of the low A’s and B-flat’s in “No Place Like London” are too low for him to project properly, but Secomb glosses over them stylishly till he’s back in his vocal comfort zone.  Balancing him nicely is the effervescence of McCarthy’s Mrs. Lovett.  She’s got nerves of steel but her love for her barber is never far from the surface.  She doesn’t have the vocal power of Patti LuPone, but she handles Lovett’s songs with humorous panache.  As Anthony, Doyle is the whole package and perhaps the best sung and acted Anthony I’ve ever seen after more than a dozen productions of this show.  His performance of “Johanna” in such tight quarters is simply spine-tingling.  For her part, Finke’s Johanna is also sublime.  It’s beautifully sung, particularly the tricky harmonics in “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” and the fast passages in “Kiss Me (Part II)” when it turns into a quartet with the Beadle and the Judge.  (For the record, the best Johanna I’ve ever seen remains Celia Kennan-Bolger in The Kennedy Center’s Sondheim Festival production.)   Oscar is wonderful as the Beadle (even if he doesn’t have Jack Eric Williams’ high B’s), Smith is appropriately scary as the Judge and Taylor is heartbreaking as Tobias.

Special praise is reserved for the vocal pyrotechnics of Betsy Morgan who not only brilliantly sings the dual roles of the Beggar Woman and Pirelli, but also is assigned all the crazy high notes in the ensemble’s transitional music.  She tosses of high C-sharp’s and high D’s (!!!) effortlessly.  It’s insane what she’s singing.  The original production had 18 people in the ensemble and here’s it’s barely 3 people.  Bill Buckhurst’s staging feels organic and unforced even though the performers and audience are sharing an incredibly tight space.  He cleverly has the cast often walking on top of the narrow tables to maximize their playing area.  The only drawback to this concept and design is it’s impossible to have a functioning barber’s chair with a chute for the victims.  There’s a staircase, upstage center, utilized for this purpose and, although it works in theory, it’s not an optimal solution.  But you can’t have everything with a concept as bold as this one and the environmental thrills and immediacy of the performances more than compensates for any minor deficits brought about due to the performing space.  But be warned, with a psychopath literally singing in your face this Sweeney Todd isn’t for the faint of heart!

The View Upstairs – A New Musical ★★★☆☆

Jeremy Pope, Taylor Frey & Nathan Lee Graham in “The View Upstairs” (photo: Kurt Sneddon)

Lynne Redgrave Theater at Culture Project
February 15, 2017 thru May 21, 2017
Opened February 28, 2017

Book, Music & Lyrics by Max Vernon
Directed by Scott Ebersold
Choreographed by Al Blackstone

The View Upstairs, a new off-Broadway musical about the catastrophic fire on June 24, 1973, that claimed 32 lives at the Upstairs Lounge, a gay nightclub in New Orleans’ French Quarter that also doubled as a home for the Metropolitan Community Church, is a welcome addition to a theatre season stuffed with new musicals.  Despite some book problems, The View Upstairs possesses an impressive score and enough sparkling performances to make even the most tired, jaded drag queen stand up and say “Amen!”

Written solely by Max Vernon, a 28-year old upstart who attended NYU and has made a name for himself on the internet, the score for The View Upstairs is steeped in catchy melodies and, for the most part, smart lyrics that propel the plot and help define character.  Vernon is fortunate to have a top-drawer line-up of performers portraying the denizens of the Upstairs Lounge and singing his songs, particularly the sinfully handsome Taylor Frey as Patrick (“What I Did Today”), a fierce Michael Longoria as the budding drag queen Freddy (“Sex on Legs”), luscious Frenchie Davis as Henri (“The World Outside These Walls”) and the righteous diva herself, Nathan Lee Graham as Willie (“Theme Song”).  Into their 1973 world steps Wes from 2017, portrayed by Jeremy Pope who starred in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy to great critical acclaim.  Wes is a budding fashion designer who can’t afford Brooklyn anymore so he’s moved back to New Orleans where he plans to purchase the fire and water-damaged second floor of a three-story building to open up his new studio.  As he walks around the space the ghosts from the past come to life and give Wes an old-school education in gay history and gay culture.

It’s too bad Vernon didn’t engage a collaborator to help him with the book as this kind of time-traveling with ghosts materializing from the past is trickier to pull off than it sounds.  (Just ask James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim.  Follies, anyone?)  Additionally, a lot of the dialogue and banter between Wes and the patrons of the Upstairs Lounge provokes eye-rolling and needs to be improved.  But then the cast starts to sing and almost all is forgiven.  Jason Sherwood has magically turned the theatre space into a deliciously tacky gay bar, complete with every conceivable kind of trapping, poster and decoration you can imagine.  It’s an impressive achievement and is complimented by the terrific costumes by Anita Yavich, the wigs courtesy of Jason Hayes, the lighting by Brian Tovar and the sound by Justin Stasiw.  The musical direction and orchestrations are by James Dobinson who leads an expert 7-piece, off-stage band with sass and panache.

It’s worth noting that, until the Orlando massacre at the Pulse nightclub which killed 49 people in 2016, the arson in 1973 at the Upstairs Lounge was the deadliest know attack known on a gay club.  When we don’t remember our history we’re doomed to repeat it.  Vernon deserves credit for bringing the Upstairs Lounge’s story – and it’s victims stories – back into the public’s contemporary consciousness.  With a little more tweaking, The View Upstairs could become a musical theatre staple across the country and around the world.

Kid Victory ★★★★☆

Brandon Flynn & Jeffry Denman in “Kid Victory” (photo: Carol Rosegg)

The Vineyard Theatre
February 1, 2017 thru March 19, 2017
Opened February 22, 2017

Book & Lyrics by Greg Pierce
Music by John Kander
Story by John Kander & Greg Pierce
Directed by Liesl Tommy
Choreographed by Christopher Windom

Even for a composer drawn to the dark themes of Cabaret, ChicagoThe Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Visit, John Kander’s new story and score for Kid Victory will pose a challenge to audiences unwilling to make a leap of faith with him and his collaborator, lyricist and book writer Greg Pierce.  Following their first collaboration, the rather tepid, 3-part chamber musical The Landing in 2013, also at The Vineyard, Kid Victory explores the psychological ramifications of what happens to a young man, Luke, who’s been kidnapped and held captive for more than a year by his handsome history teacher, Michael, only to be released back to his devout, Christian parents in small-town middle America.  And what if both Michael and Luke were gay and Michael maintained a kind of psycho-sexual hold over Luke?  And what if Luke had fallen in love with Michael, even though he knew his captor was dangerously mentally ill?  And what if everyone in the town sang and danced about it?  Well, that’s Kid Victory and it’s both dazzling and disjointed. Much of it works surprisingly well, but some of it is as wince-inducing as you’d imagine it might be.

Whatever Kid Victory‘s shortcomings, if you love cutting edge musical theatre you’ve got to applaud Kander & Pierce, as well as director Liesl Tommy who helmed an earlier incarnation of the show at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, for taking huge risks and daring to delve into uncharted territory.  Boasting a stellar cast, the performances are first-rate, especially newcomer Brandon Flynn who gives a bravura performance as Luke and Jeffry Denman who is scarily frightening as his captor, Michael.  Ironically, in a bold choice, Flynn never sings a note as Luke.  Everyone around him sings, often inhabiting his thoughts and feelings, but his is a gut-wrenching, physical performance that will haunt you.  Denman, one of the premiere song and dance men working today, plays against type as Michael and his unexpected harrowing turn is a revelation.  Luke’s parents, Eileen and Joseph, are convincingly portrayed by veterans Karen Ziemba and Daniel Jenkins.  Dee Roscioli gets laughs as shop owner Emily who befriends Luke and gives him a job and a safe place to process his feelings.  And as Suze and Andrew, Laura Darrell and Blake Zolfo offer two potential romantic interests for Luke.

The style of Kander’s music is, like the show, eclectic but you certainly hear his ‘voice’ in the music and it’s thrilling to know that, at the age of 90, he’s still rolling the dice and challenging the status quo.

If I Forget ★★★★☆

Jeremy Shamos, Kate Walsh & Maria Dizzia in “If I Forget” (photo: Joan Marcus)

Roundabout at Laura Pels Theatre
Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre
February 2, 2017 thru April 30, 2017
Opened February 22, 2017

Written by Steven Levenson
Directed by Daniel Sullivan

In Steven Levenson’s hilarious and heartbreaking If I Forget we meet the Fischer family, a dysfunctional clan of siblings who can’t agree on anything and yet remain fiercely united in their dyspeptic dysfunction.  Set in 2000-2001 on the even of the 9/11 attacks, they are Jewish but can’t even agree on how much religion should be a part of their lives.  The youngest sister Sharon, played with relish by the amazing Maria Dizzia, was the most observant but she’s given up teaching to become the caregiver for their ailing father, Lou, played with calm righteousness by Larry Bryggman.  Resentful and angry since she discovered her boyfriend and her cantor on her new duvet, Sharon has an axe to grind.  The middle sister Holly, embodied with no-nonsense flair by Kate Walsh of Private Practice, only attends synagogue on the high holy days and appears to have a charmed life as an interior designer.  But disaster lurks under the surface of her marriage thanks to her husband Howard, played with henpecked contriteness by Gary Wilmes.  Older brother Michael, a sensational Jeremy Shamos, is a professor of Jewish studies but doesn’t attend synagogue at all.  Michael’s new book is about to be published – an examination of how the Jewish obsession with the Holocaust is robbing Jews of their identity – which has enraged both his father, who helped liberate Dachau, his wife Ellen, played with cool reserve by Tasha Lawrence, not to mention the tenure committee at his university where his job may now be in jeopardy.  Throw into the mix a family real estate decision and a financial drama for an explosive recipe of accusations, revelations and recriminations enough for the Old Testament.

Levinson, who wrote the The Language of Trees and The Disappearance of Tom Durnin for the Roundabout, Masters of Sex for Showtime and the book for the current Broadway smash Dear Evan Hansen, has a gift for dialogue that caresses and bruises at the same time.  Lovingly directed by Daniel Sullivan on a multi-level set by Derek McLane, the Fischer family in If I Forget argues and fights like all families do, they’re just funnier doing it.

Sunset Boulevard ★★☆☆☆

Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard” (photo: Nick Wall)

Palace Theatre
February 2, 2017 thru June 25, 2017
Opened February 9, 2017

Book & Lyrics by Don Black & Christopher Hampton
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Lonny Price
Choreographed by Stephen Mear
Orchestrations, Vocal and Incidental Music Arrangements by David Cullen & Andrew Lloyd Webber

The English National Opera’s semi-staged production of Sunset Boulevard from the spring of 2016 has crossed the Atlantic and set-up shop in a fully-staged mounting with a 40-piece orchestra at the Palace Theatre for a limited Broadway run.  As it did in London last year, this revival of  Sunset stars Glenn Close as faded, silent-film star Norma Desmond.  Yes, that’s correct, Close, who headlined the original New York company of the show in 1994 and won a Tony for playing Norma at the age of 47, will be starring in this revival at the age of 69 though she won’t be eligible to win a Tony for playing Norma a second time.  Close will turn 70 on March 19.

But wait, you might say.  Wasn’t Close’s singing pretty sketchy as Norma 23 years ago?  Well, yes it was now that you mention it.  So how is it today when she’s on the cusp of turning 70?  Charitable theatergoers wanting to be kind to Close might say it’s even more sketchy, but that she acts the hell out of it.  But serious critics must speak the truth in saying Close’s voice is in tatters and that her singing is now a cross between braying and bellowing.  And she’s not helped by sound designer Mick Potter when her body microphone is routinely cranked up to ridiculous levels to create the illusion she’s achieving a crescendo via her own vocal power and not an electronic enhancement.  To be fair, Close looks fine (wearing her original costumes by Anthony Powell) and has many effective moments in the first act.  But then her performance spins out of control in the second act as she becomes unleashed in her craziness and loses all sense of proportion and nuance as her Norma goes off the rails.  It’s painful to watch but with tourist audiences leaping to their feat to applaud a Hollywood star, how’s Close supposed to know she’s embarrassing.

As for the rest of the revival, the extravagant on-stage, 40-piece orchestra (the only reason to sit through the show) plays Lloyd Webber’s mediocre score beautifully, even if they’re wildly over-amplified – like everything in this production.  The overblown sets which won John Napier a Tony in the original mounting have been replaced by a series of iron staircases courtesy of James Noone.  Ironically, there seem to be even more stairs for Close to climb on this skeletal incarnation than there were on Napier’s lavish, sweeping staircase.

Like Close, the other principals have transferred from the London revival with her – one assumes at her insistence since she no doubt had casting approval of her co-stars.  Fred Johanson has an intense, booming voice but lacks subtlety as Norma’s right-hand man, Max von Mayerling.  The lovely Siobhan Dillon is charming but, in the most underwritten role of the show, has little to do as Betty Schaeffer.  And a very handsome Michael Xavier cuts a dashing figure as Joe Gillis and helps propel the story forward when Close isn’t onstage stirring the pot as Norma.  It’s a shame all the music for Joe and Betty is so dull and dispensable, leaving only Norma’s two big numbers (“With One Look” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye”) as the sole highlights of a seemingly endless score.  It’s also a shame Xavier’s physique isn’t exploited more than it is.  At the top of act two, in a really clever bit of staging by director Lonny Price, Xavier climbs out of the empty orchestra pit as if climbing out of Norma’s swimming pool.  He’s wearing a pair of tight, box-cut swim trunks that make it clear why Norma could lose her mind over him.  But instead of leaving Joe in those trunks for a bit, lying on a pool-side chaise lounge, Price has him slip on a robe before turning upstage to slip off his trunks under the robe.  But that’s just another missed opportunity in this Sunset Boulevard.  One of so many.

Brandon Uranowitz – The Songs of William Finn ★★★★★

Brandon Uranowitz (Photo: Jenny Anderson/Broadway Style Guide)

Feinstein’s/54 Below
February 8, 10 & 11, 2017

with Alysha Umphress & Zachary Prince
Music Direction by Vadim Feichtner
Special Guest: Stephanie J. Block

Making an astonishingly self-assured cabaret debut last night at 54 Below, the only thing more remarkable than Brandon Uranowitz’s chutzpah is the magnitude of his talent.  Having taken Broadway by storm the past two seasons with a Tony-nominated turn as Adam Hochberg in An American in Paris and what should be a Tony-nominated turn as Mendel in Falsettos, Uranowitz’s sheer effortlessness as a performer is jaw-dropping.  With a delicious combination of wit, charm and self-deprecating brashness, he dazzled the audience with a collection of complicated, lyric-heavy William Finn songs only someone as young and unafraid as Uranowitz would dare program.  Fortunately, he has the impeccable musical director and accompanist Vadim Feichtner collaborating with him and, together, they made Finn’s dense and rapid-fire songs a wondrous treat; providing clarity as well as comedy.  From “How Marvin Eats His Breakfast” (In Trousers) to “Wizzer Going Down” (In Trousers) to “Republicans” (Elegies – A Song Cycle) to “And They’re Off” (A New Brain), Uranowitz tore into Finn’s material with a fearless intensity – and deadly accuracy – that was thrilling for the audience.  Never once showing any sings of tentativeness or ‘nerves’, his laser-like focus was unerring in both execution and fervor.  Uranowitz find quiet moments of pathos with “Mark’s All-Male Thanksgiving” (Elegies – A Song Cycle), one of Finn’s most heartbreaking offerings, as well as introspection in “The Essential Me,” a song with music by the gifted Deborah Abramson that’s new to this writer but a welcome addition to Finn’s canon.

Wisely, Uranowitz generously shared the stage with extremely talented friends in his Finn exploration, including the luscious Alysha Umphress and his partner of six years, the sinfully handsome Zachary Prince.  Together they provided the kind of luxury back-up singing on several numbers most performers can only dream about.  Umphress, who recently achieved ‘goddess’ status with her divine performance as Hildy in On The Town and her sensational, jazz-infused, debut CD with Jeff Blumenkrantz, I’ve Been Played, on the Yellow Sound Label, conquered Finn’s “Song of the Full Refrigerator” with music by Will Aronson (from Barrington Stage Company’s Songs by Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists You Probably Don’t Know But Should), knocking it out of the proverbial park before dueting with Uranowitz on the gorgeous “I’d Rather Be Sailing” (A New Brain).  For his part, Prince lent his rich, lyric baritone to an emotional duet of “What Would I Do?” (Falsetto land) with Uranowitz which was heartfelt and beautifully sung.  Prince hasn’t had good luck yet on Broadway (not his fault, to be sure) but I sense his time is due – and soon – as he’s clearly got the goods.

Uranowitz’s special guest star was his recent co-star and love-interest in Falsettos, Tony-nominee Stephanie J. Block, who gamely played second fiddle while Uranowitz sang “A Marriage Proposal” (March of the Falsettos) to her before she killed it with “I’m Breaking Down” (In Trousers/Falsettos), a number she now owns after turning it into a showstopper.  A natural raconteur, Block also told a hilarious story about an on-stage mishap in Falsettos that delighted the audience even it mortified Uranowitz.  Possessing one of the best belts on Broadway, the always reliable Block gave perhaps her most nuanced performance as Trina in this season’s Falsettos and it would be nice to see her rewarded with the Tony that’s inexplicably eluded her to date.

Throughout his show, Uranowitz peppered his patter with hilarious personal anecdotes and reminiscences, many dealing with his sexuality and all of them delivered with a spontaneity that masked what I’m assuming was careful planning and forethought.  A quivering live-wire of energy and bravado, to close his show Uranowitz encored with a new and obscure Finn collaboration, again with music courtesy of Deborah Abramson, called “I Love My Voice.”  A delicious trifle that allowed him to showcase equal parts childlike wonder tinged with back-stage jadedness, Uranowitz floated off-stage in a gossamer sheen of self-knowing narcissism.  With a poof and a swish, he was gone – and that seemed just the way he wanted it.

Feinstein’s / 54 Below

Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose ★★★★☆

Ed Dixon in “Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose” (photo: Carol Rosegg)

Davenport Loft
January 25, 2017 thru April 15, 2017
Opened February 1, 2017

Written by Ed Dixon
Direction & Scenic Design by Eric Schaeffer

Hilarious, heartbreaking, shocking and shattering.  What puny adjectives to describe Ed Dixon’s new solo show about his 20-year relationship with – and admiration of – the great, two-time Tony winning actor, George Rose.  A wildly eccentric and, as it turns out, deeply conflicted man with a lacerating wit and an incandescent talent, Rose was a brilliant actor who conquered the stages of London and New York.  Dixon’s devastating one-act monologue is an homage to his friend and mentor, as well as an attempt to make sense of Rose’s untimely death at the age of 68 in the Dominican Republic where he was beaten to death by his adopted son, Juan, and three other men including Juan’s father.

Directed with calm precision by Eric Schaeffer, the Artistic Director of the Signature Theatre in Washington, D.C., where Georgie was originally produced last January, Dixon regales us with anecdotes about Rose including their meeting (in a touring production of The Student Prince), Rose’s Bank Street apartment (where he kept an assortment of wild animals including a pair of mountain lions), his male dressing-room assistants (who always wore a French maid outfit and answered to the name of Lisette) and his endless collection of theatrical stories which gives Dixon license to give us delicious impersonations of Katharine Hepburn, Noel Coward and Richard Burton, among others.  Among the many life lessons Dixon learned from Rose was that it was possible to be gay in New York in the 1970’s and still have a career in the theatre.

Georgie continues on this path with Dixon reconstructing the highs and lows of Rose’s esteemed career before Rose’s life takes a turn upon his purchasing a house in the Dominican Republic in 1984 and meeting Juan.  When Dixon finally takes a trip there to see the house and meet Juan, he’s horrified to discover Juan is a teenager and that Rose frequents a house of prostitution with underage boys.  When confronted, Rose replies “…oh no, dear boy.  It’s part of the culture.”  Dixon returns home in disgust but his world falls apart upon Rose’s death.  It’s a stark ending to what’s come before.  But it’s the truth, as visceral and disturbing as it is.  Who among us hasn’t discovered a horrible truth about someone we love and admire that’s shaken our world to its core.  That Dixon is brave enough to dig deeply into that truth and expose his own fears give Georgie a power that’s all too rare in the theatre today.

In Transit – A New Musical ★☆☆☆☆

Margo Seibert & Company in “In Transit” (photo: Joan Marcus)

Circle in the Square
November 10, 2016 thru April 16, 2017
Opened December 11, 2016

Book, Music & Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan & Sara Wordsworth
A Cappella Arrangements by Deke Sharon
Music Supervision by Rick Hip-Flores
Directed & Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall

Having a brief, off-Broadway run at 59E59 Theaters in 2010 wasn’t enough for In Transit so now it’s opened on Broadway at Circle in the Square in a jaw-dropping debacle that redefines ‘vanity production.’  What was merely a cloying, irritating show six years ago is now an epic misfire as ridiculous as it is stupefying.  Did the world need an a cappella musical?  Perhaps so but, if it did, In Transit isn’t it.

With most of the action set on New York City subway platforms or inside subway cars, the Tony-wining director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall has her work cut out for her as she tries to make sense of a book whose cliches are laughable.  Jane (Margo Seibert) is an actress temping in an office while her potential soulmate Nate (James Snyder) has just lost his job on Wall Street but who still has time to pick up valuable life lessons from a sarcastic subway attendant (Moya Angela).  The obligatory gay couple, Trent (Justin Guarini) and Steven (Telly Leung) can’t get married because Trent isn’t out to his bible-thumping mother (Angela, again).  Meanwhile, Dave (David Abeles) has dumped poor Ali (Erin Mackey) who mends her heart with running marathons.  Their stories and heartache are all told thru soaring ballads and rollicking up-tempos, most with gratingly over-amplified vocals.

To be sure, the cast is game.  Seibert, so wonderful in Rocky, has a lovely voice and it’s always nice to see the under-utilized Snyder.  But Angela – who keeps her head above the rising water due to sheer talent – comes off best and gets the best song, “Keep It Goin’,” and the best outfit – a dress constructed of Metrocards, even if it’s suspiciously similar to the AmEx card dress worn by The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert costume designer Lizzie Gardiner in 1995 when she won her Oscar.  But everything in In Transit is a sugar-cube away from a cavity in a world where the subway platforms are devoid of commuters and the cars are always empty.  Be warned: take the bus instead.

A Bronx Tale – The New Musical ★★☆☆☆

Bobby Conte Thornton & Nick Cordero in “A Bronx Tale” (photo: Joan Marcus)

Longacre Theatre
November 3, 2016 thru (open ended run)
Opened December 1, 2016

Book by Chazz Palminteri
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Directed by Robert de Niro & Jerry Zaks
Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo

After starting life as an Off-Broadway solo vehicle for himself in 1989, Chazz Palminteri’s autobiographical A Bronx Tale did what it was supposed to do.  Namely, it got him noticed and gave him a career.  More importantly, it attracted the attention of Robert de Niro who brought the story – and Palminteri – to the screen in 1993, allowing de Niro to make his directorial debut in the process.  Amazingly, Palminteri then brought his solo show to Broadway in the 2007-2008 season.  So, with all that good luck and success was it really necessary to turn A Bronx Tale into a musical?  Apparently there was and, sadly, the results are on display at the Longacre Theatre for all to see.

Studiously co-directed by de Niro and Jerry Zaks with manic choreography courtesy of Sergio Trujillo, A Bronx Tale tells Palminteri’s story of a boy, Calogero (a fine Hudson Loverro), growing up in The Bronx of the 1960’s, the son of a proud bus driver (a spot-on Richard H. Blake).  Calogero witnesses a brutal murder by the neighborhood mafioso, Sonny (the charismatic Nick Cordero), but he doesn’t squeal to the police earning Sonny’s gratitude and protection in return.  As Calogero grows up (Bobby Conte Thornton) he’s forced to choose between an honest, upstanding life like his fathers or a life of crime in Sonny’s shadow.  Sprinkled into his coming of age tale is also an interracial romance between Calogero and Jane (Ariana DeBose) that, unsurprisingly, ends badly.

Despite the fact A Bronx Tale is professionally put together and the leads, particularly Thornton, Blake and Cordero, give solid performances, the problem remains its characters simply don’t need to sing.  To paraphrase Sondheim and one of his many dictates for musicalizing a play, novel or film,  “will it improve the story if the characters sing their emotions and feelings” and, in the case of A Bronx Tale the answer is no.  Its score by Menken & Slater is workmanlike and uninspired.  The songs actually slow down Calogero’s story and feel clunky, even when sung by capable performers.  It’s also worth pointing out that, late in the second act as Calogero’s story hurtles toward disaster, the sound design by Gareth Owen careens out of control as the amplification of the orchestra and the performers body mic’s are cranked up to ear-splitting decibels.

A final observation: early in the first act Blake and Loverro share a touching scene on a bench as father and son and I couldn’t help but remember when Blake, himself a child performer who’s enjoyed a long and successful career on Broadway, played the lead in one of the great flops of all time, 1989’s The Prince of Central Park.  Blake had shared a similar bench scene with the great JoAnne Worley in that show and I couldn’t help but imagine the empathy he must have toward Loverro as his character forged a connection to his son.  That I was thinking of that and not immersed in the story being told by A Bronx Tale speaks volumes about why its existence is simply unnecessary.