Chita – A Legendary Celebration, The Model Apartment and Romeo and Juliet

The Model Apartment and Romeo and Julie are miscast and misdirected, but Chita continues to reign supreme!

Chita – A Legendary Celebration   (5 stars)
The Model Apartment   (1 star)
Romeo and Juliet   (1 star)

To prove age has no limits, Chita Rivera threw herself an 80th birthday party, Chita – A Legendary Celebration, as a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS on October 7.  Looking, sounding and dancing like $10 million dollars, Rivera dazzled the audience with a sleek nightclub act that touched on all her famous musical theatre roles: Anita in West Side Story, Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie, Charity in Sweet Charity, Aurora in Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Velma in Chicago just to name a few.  Filled with sparkling patter, sexy back-up boys, notable guest stars (Tommy Tune and Ben Vereen) and the legend herself, Chita – A Legendary Celebration entered the pantheon of unforgettable, one-in-a-lifetime nights!

Where to begin to talk about Donald Margulies provocative play, The Model Apartment?  Written in the early 1980’s Joe Papp at The Public optioned the play but nothing happened.  Then Circle Rep was going to do it – and nothing.  Finally it was staged in 1988 in Los Angles but Margulies had his arm twisted to change the ending, which bothered him.  Finally, Primary Stages staged it in New York in 1995, the reviews were ecstatic and Margulies won an Obie Award.  But then the actor playing the father left the production the day after the reviews came out, dooming The Model Apartment to an aborted run and, perhaps, theatrical legend.  Well, I missed the 1995 production but I still don’t feel I’ve really seen Margulies’ play because the Primary Stages current revival is so badly cast, badly acted and badly directed that it’s almost impossible to evaluate it.  (And, yes, I realize I’m distinctly in the minority on this one but I’ve never been afraid to tell the Emperor when he’s naked!)  Both a soul-crushing examination of a dysfunctional family with an obese, mentally-unstable daughter who terrorizes her parents, as well as an allegorical metaphor for the horrors of the holocaust and dealing with the guilt that surviving it brings, The Model Apartment is a devastating piece of writing.  But you need actors who bring realism and authenticity to their roles or it falls flat.  As the Jewish couple Max and Lola, Mark Blum and Kathryn Grody are dreadful.  (Where are Jack Weston and Doris Roberts when you need them?)  The infamous monologue about Lola knowing Anne Frank at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp becomes ridiculous in Grody’s hands because she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  As Max and Lola’s demonic daughter Debby, Diane Davis flails around ‘Acting’ with broad strokes but no soul.  As Debby’s boyfriend Neil, the less said about Hubert Point-Du Jour the better.  In New York there’s no excuse for bad casting but that’s the overriding problem with director Evan Cabnet’s flat, lackluster production of this play.  It’s beautifully designed and the actors go through the motions, but The Model Apartment deserves more if it’s to resonate and pierce the heart as it should.

I never dreamed that the Classic Stage Company’s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet could be worse than the current Broadway incarnation, but I was sadly mistaken.  Director Tea Alagic has driven her production off the cliff at CSC with terrible casting, ridiculous editing, stupefying costumes, non-existent design and mind-numbing staging.  If you like lots of shouting and over-acting you’ll thrill to Julian Cihi’s Romeo, Elizabeth Olsen’s Juliet and, in particular T.R. Knight’s misguided Mercutio.  Other than the chiseled bodies of Dion Mucciacito’s Tybalt and Stan Demidoff’s Paris, the only other things to come out of Alagic’s Romeo & Juliet unscathed are Daphne Rubin-Vega’s crazy-ass, Latin-infused Nurse (which doesn’t work but is intermittently amusing) and Daniel Davis’ clear-eyed, well-spoken Friar Laurence.  When Davis is on-stage, you feel the audience collectively give thanks for someone who understands what Shakespeare is all about.

The Model Apartment plays through November 1 at Primary Stages (59 E 59th St, PrimaryStages.org).  Romeo and Juliet plays through November 10 at Classic Stage Co. (136 E 13th St, ClassicStage.org).

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