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Posts tagged ‘Off Broadway’

“Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” Wonderful New Musical Off-Bway!

FOR MY LOVE, IT IS TIMELESS AND VAST AS THE SKIES
IT IS STRONG AS THE TIDE AND THE WAVES WHEN THEY RISE
IT IS I, ERNEST SHACKLETON, HERE IN COMMAND
AND I PROMISE MY DARLING WE’RE GONNA FIND LAND

“Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” is the most wildly inventive musical of the Off-Bway season. And if anyone would have told me I’d be raining superlatives over a two-person love story that’s set simultaneously in Brooklyn and Antartica (!) I wouldn’t’ve believed them! But it’s true! It’s all true! And 19th Century Arctic Explorer Ernest Shackleton has come back to life(Through a date searching app on the Internet) to make wild, theatrical magic love to a single 45-year-old Mom with a baby named Zach in an unheated apartment “far out” in Brooklyn, well, it just sounds preposterous.

But the theater exists to make the unbelievable, believable.And “Ernest Shackleton” amazingly does just that .Our heroineKat (the extraordinary singer/actress/musician Val Vigoda) is an experimental music composer, whose living room is filled with every kind of electronic musical device imaginable, including a red, heart-shaped electric violin, which she barely puts down and a set of amplified drums that she beats all her many frustrations out on. This assemblage of electronicaErnest Shackleton 2 is backed by a gigantic computer screen, behind the stage, on which we see her many, many wild fantasies play out on.

The frigidity of her (very) cold water flat and the stress of her life as an artist. “I gave my life to art!” she plaintively sings, sends her over the edge and into the imaginary arms of studly Arctic hero, Ernest Shackleton, who calls out to her romantically through the Internet dating site, “Katherine! Katherine!..”and then enters her own version of Antarctica, through (where else?) her refrigerator.

Wade McCollum and Val Vigoda are the star-crossed lovers linked by the heroic struggles both are going through. He, to reach his high-flown Arctic goals, and she, well, just to survive her life. Her baby never stops crying, her computer’s keyboard keeps re-looping the word “Alone,” and they spend “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” finding each other in the highly unromantic ice and snow, which the dauntless duo here turn into a winter wonderland.

The fiery Ms. Vigoda has also written the equally red-hot, heartfelt lyrics to go with Brendan Milburn’s Irish-inflected score.

There are a lot of sea shanties mixed in with the hard-rock and the love songs and the rock-solid book is by Joe DiPietro of “Memphis” fame, who really knows his way around a musical.  And underground there is massive musical amplification on  every kind of instrument imaginable by Sound Designer Rob Kaplowitz and Orchestrators Ryan O’Connell and Glen Milburn. And the super-skillful director Lisa Peterson makes the duo seem like a cast of thousands.

At no time do Kat and Shackleton strain our credulity, as the metaphor of his ice-bound ship, the Endurance, freezes over and sinks, stranding them and a crew of 22. This is based on a true story, which I won’t spoil here.(You can look it up. It’s a recorded fact.)And they had a videographer with them, too! As newsreel footage of Shackleton’s impossible dreams becomes all of our dreams of achievement, love and survival against all odds.“Ernest Shackleton’s motto was “Optimism is a form of moral courage.”
I left “Ernest Shackleton” filled with more optimism, and hope, yes, hope for the innovative American Musical than I’ve felt since well, since “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”
He sings “FOR MY LOVE, IT IS TIMELESS AND VAST AS THE SKIES
IT IS STRONG AS THE TIDE AND THE WAVES WHEN THEY RISE
IT IS I, ERNEST SHACKLETON, HERE IN COMMAND
AND I PROMISE MY DARLING WE’RE GONNA FIND LAND!”

#Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, # Ernest Shackleton, #Val Vigoda,#Wade McCollum,#Antartica, #Artic Explorer, #Endurance, # Electric Violin, # Single Mom

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Oscar Nominee, 20 yr. old, Lucas Hedges Rocks Off Broadway in”Yen”

yen-2It’s so rare to see an Off-Broadway play explode on every artistic level, as the strangely titled “Yen” does at the Lucille Lortel on Christopher St. Meant as a vehicle for rising star and Oscar nominee ( in Supp. Actor) Lucas Hedges of “Manchester by the Sea,” he surprises and surpasses on every level possible. Main among them the revelatory fact that young ( 20 yr.old ) Lucas Hedges is no flash in the pan. He fulfills every expectation and surpasses them. He is simply on his way to being one of the greatest young actors of his generation.casey-lucasHe’s shaved his mop top of solid red hair and goes completely bald as British skin-head, Hench, in Anna Jordan’s electric new play “Yen.” It is being given a superb American debut production by director Trip Cullman, whose career I have admired and followed for many years now. Cullman has a way of getting career performances out of his actors and he’s done that here with Ari Graynor, Stefania LaVie Owen and Justice Smith.

Yen which is a nick-name of Owen’s character Jen, is no walk in the park, and is not for the faint of heart. It’s a total gut punch. I felt, too, like Hedges’ character does in the play’s bloody climax, as if I was banging my head into a wall over and over and over again. The sense of the characters’ frustrations are contagious, palpable. But in the best sense of the word. It was exhilarating. And enlightening. It was like it was as dangerous as being caught in a lightning storm at sea with columns of lightning bolts shooting all around you. You see them blazing everywhere . At any moment , you might be hit.yen-1 yen-3

It starts with Hedges nude to the waist and barefoot picking his nose and watching pornography with a dead-eyed expression, while his younger brother Bobbie, also shirtless and barefoot, is jumping around the dirty bed-sit stage like a Mexican jumping bean on speed. Or meth. He’s on something. Because he doesn’t stop imitating the sound of their German Shepherd Taliban who is cooped up off-stage (we hear him, but we never see him) growling and snarling and roaring through this play, like a bat or a German Shepherd out of hell.

Juvenile delinquents – to – be, they rob stores in order to eat, and they only own one dirty T- shirt between them. And seem to have had no parenting whatsoever.yen7

Taliban is caged and so are these two teenaged boys. And we soon find out why as they drag their comatose, drug-addicted, passed-out-drunk mother in through the doorway of their rancid council flat. Ari Graynor is magnificence personified as this young actress tackles these multiple addictions and her two equally addicted, pubescent teenage sons, executing just how twisted her under-class life has made her, in a Cockney accent that is totally spot on. As is Hedges’ and is Justice Smith’s. Smith performs the disturbed Bobbie at a decibel and enery-level that is superhuman. You don’t know what dangerous thing he and/or Hench might do that prefigures the violence that occurs as the play progresses.yen-4

But the violence is not telegraphed. It’s just THERE. A part of these lower-class have-nots’ lives.  I’d say this play was a continuation of John Osborne’s Angry Young Man, working class anti-hero from the ’50s. It’s a kitchen sink drama, except these people are so poor they don’t even HAVE a kitchen sink.

As the play spirals downward, the only glimmer of hope is represented by the entrance of Jennifer or Jen. “Yen” to her family. A sweet Welsh girl, who has just moved into the neighborhood, and is clearly attracted to the hunky Hench ( Hedges )who spends most of the play in his underpants. yen-5Stefania LaVie Owen totally nails this difficult accent, too. As well embodying Yen’s warmth and gritty/slutty attraction. She is astonishingly making her stage debut in this difficult role in this difficult play. But they are all orbiting around Lucas Hedges’ miraculous sun. His talent is out-size and blazing, and he more than fulfills the high expectations his complex Oscar-nominated performance as the troubled, recalcitrant nephew in “Manchester by the Sea,” has set. And “Manchester” has set that bar HIGH.

Hench is a much more difficult role. He has to carry the entire, angry play, barefoot and half-naked, and make you hate him, but love him, and fear him and fear FOR him at the same time. It’s astonishing. HE’S astonishing.

Yen” is closing in March, so you better move fast and see it before it vanishes into theatrical lore as Lucas Hedges’ blazing theatrical debut.

#Yen

#Lucas Hedges

#Trip Cullman

#Off Broadway

#Oscar Nominee Best Supporting Actor

#Manchester by the Sea

“Trip of Love” Dreamy, Sweet, Shimmering, Sexy Ode to the ’60s

Trip of Love 1For a dreamy, trippy, zippy, sexy time travel musical back to the ’60s, don’t miss “Trip of Love” at Stage 42. There’s no book. It’s a musical revue, a form that we don’t see very often anymore. Juke-box musicals rule the day on Broadway these days. I mean “Beautiful” is still running, and the original Tony-winning”A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” has just closed. But “Trip of Love” totally surprised me with how delightfully entertaining it was. Without any plot or dialogue, it’s just very well put together entertainment by multi-talented director. choreographer, and SET-DESIGNER James Walski. And the sets are as eye-popping as the dancing is non-stop exhilarating.

I haven’t seen this much dancing in a Broadway show, (well, it’s Off Broadway actually, but who’s quibbling. It’s on W.42nd Street in a largish Off Broadway house.) since Bob Fosse left this planet.  And a dancing show it is.”Trip of Love” is exuberantly entertaining. And the dancers fantastic.

And the men, dare I say it, are sexier in this show, than any I’ve ever seen. It’s true that most of the men are constantly losing their shirts in almost every number, but I found that refreshing, and even innovative.Trip of Love 2I was at a disadvantage in that the performance I saw the three female leads were out, but their understudies were all fine, so no wonder the men dominated the show, with or without their shirts.

Austin Miller had pants slung so low that they were in constant danger of slipping off. As did his co-stars Brendon Leffler and Joey Calveri. Backed by an incredible ensemble, who shone, and shimmied and burned down the house with their on-fire choreography by Walksi.

“Wipe-Out” was a particularly incendiary number (pictured at top), which of course, had no lyrics whatsoever, and in this case, with the dancers placed atop pillars of waves, they didn’t need them. It was that great surfing number with heavy guitar riffs.

Trip of Love 3Then Walksi would blow your mind with the ballads, particularly the beautiful “Moon River” with a giant silvery moon backing a shimmering blue river and a young dancer named Colby Q. Lindeman doing a pas-de-deux with a young ballerina from the ensemble, as Tara Palsha  (I think…so many swings were on, I’m not sure who the actress/dancer was. Lisa Finegold?) Anyway, Palsha was on a swing, singing a plaintive “Moon River” in a style that Harry Mancini could’ve arranged himself. And would’ve loved. The set was so blue that the lyrics “Huckleberry Friend” finally made sense.

And this swoon-worthy number, that literally gave me goose-bumps, ended Act I in tremendous fashion. And took me back to the days when I, as youngster, was dreaming in the Bronx, of “Crossing you in style, someday. Dream maker, you heart-breaker, where ever you’re going, I’m going your way…”

And wearing out the red vynyl 45 RPM of “Moon River,” I played it so much. The Original, with the Henry Mancini chorus and orchestra. I loved that song before Andy Williams ruined it, for my money.

But director/creator/choreographer James Walski has brought it back to its “Breakfast at Tiffany” roots. And designed that blue Moon set that I will never forget. I can’t wait to see what his next extravaganza will be!Moon River 1

And that was just Act I! And Act 2, topped it in energy, enthusiasm and sexy brightness. I can’t wait to back to see it a second, and maybe even a third time!

Colby Q 1

And I have to say, Colby Q. Lindeman danced throughout the show, not just in the spectacularly moving “Moon River” number, and yes, he danced his way into my heart.

Drama Desk Awards!Alex Sharp Continues to Win Best Actor in a Play!

Alex Sharp 1Young, just graduated (from Julliard), Alex Sharp thanked his SCHOOL! A first, I think at any major awards ceremony tonight, when he continues his probable march to the Tony, too, at the Drama Desk Awards. He won for playing the leading character, who is “on the spectrum” as Sharp put it, or autistic to the rest of you and me for “A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” The challenging British play won big with six awards, winning everything it was nominated for  at the Drama Desks. 24-year-old Sharp also won Best Actor in a Play from the Outer Critics’ Circle.

Considered the most prestigious of the theater awards handed out right about now, the Drama Desk Awards are voted on solely by press. It’s 125 members consider Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway equally in all categories.

Held at Town Hall, the ceremony seemed a little bit glossier than usual, though the winners took forever to get to the stage it seemed.

Both Best Actress in a Play Winner Helen Mirren(for “The Audience”) and Best Actress in a Musical Kristen Chenoweth(for “On the 20th Century” complained of the length of the ceremony, though. Dame Helen said “I’m so hungry I want to eat this!” indicating her well-deserved award and Chenoweth said “I’ve got to pee!”

“American in Paris” won four awards including Best Actor in a Musical for Robert Fairchild, who thanked “Gene Kelly, without whom none of this would be possible.” But “Hamilton” the Off Broadway sold-out sensation won seven Drama Desk Awards, making it the big winner of the night. Lin-Manuel Miranda the author/creator/star won three awards himself personally.

“Hamilton” is an Off-Broadway show, heaving to Broadway, next month. So it won’t figure in the upcoming Tony Awards which only consider theater work done on Broadway. But expect the four major acting winners, who are all in Broadway shows currently running to repeat their triumphs Sunday night at the Tonys. That would be Mirren, Chenoweth, Sharp and Fairchild.

Best Revival of a Play went to “The Elephant Man” whose entire cast is currently in Ldndon, repeating its’ success in the West End. It’s top-lined by three-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Allesandro Nivola.

Best Revival went to Lincoln Center’s “The King and I.” My personal fave “Gigi” won Best Costumes for the great Catherine Zuber.

“Something Rotten” only won one award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical Christian Borle.

Elizabeth Williamson, new Associate Artistic Director, Hartford Stage

It is my great pleasure, dear readers, dear cineastes, dear lovers of theatre to introduce you to the very exciting and dynamic Elizabeth Williamson, the newly appointed associate artistic director of the Hartford Stage. Elizabeth has studied in London under Mark Wing-Davey, who is now the Head of NYU’s great Grad Acting program, and also at L’Ecole Jacques le Coq theatre in Paris, as well as being the Dramaturg at the Hartford Stage under the direction of Darko Tresnjak.

Elizabeth was the dramaturg and very involved with the development of Matthew Lopez’ new play “Reverberation” which I liked so much when I saw it in Hartford earlier this year. Her parents were both poets and she has a very bright future in the American Theater in front of her.

“Becoming Dr. Ruth” A surprise & a triumph!

Who knew that behind the facade of one of the most unlikely Pop Culture/TV icons of the last century lay such a tragic back story? “Becoming Dr. Ruth” lays all that bare to chilling, enlightening, suspenseful effect. It’s a one hour 40 min. show, with no intermission but it flew by at 100 mph. Powered by an unforgettable performance by Debra Jo Rupp as the eponymous title character. And oh yes, it’s one woman show.

At the always charming Westside Theater on W.43rd St., it’s pint-sized house and stage is just the right size for this tiny titan’s staggering story.

She is simply packing up her Washington Heights apartment that she shared with her late third husband. The stage is full of brown packing boxes, which trigger, doing the most mundane of casts, in the plainest of settings, but with the most gorgeous views of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridges, Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s many memories of her childhood destroyed by Hitler and the holocaust come flooding back .Each item she packs invariably reminds of childhood moments. memories, both devastating and sweet.

As a child, she was sent out of her Frankfurt Orthodox Jewish home on the Kindertransport that got her safely to Switzerland for the remainder of the war, but she never say her father, mother and grandmother again. These memories are told plainly and without sentimental effect as Dr. Ruth, formerly Karola Sigel, lays them out in stark detail. You think “Great! She escaped to Switzerland!” but the loss of her family, and later in life, her  seeking to rebuild her own, as  first on a kibbutz in Israel and then later in Paris and finally New York, haunts her. And us.

The loss of her parents, about whom she was never able to find any information, is an ineffable tragedy that powers her drive to succeed, and succeed she does! As America’s Go-To guru of sexual advice in the ’70s. She clearly helps rebuild Americans’ damaged libidos and spirits with her always jovial, infectious optimism, which is the note on which the play ends, as she finally says proudly displaying a picture of her four grandchildren, “You see, Hitler, you lost.”

“Becoming Dr. Ruth” is the best new play I’ve seen so far this season, and although there is only one woman on stage, Debra Jo Rupp, fills it with Dr. Ruth’s ebullient, indomitable spirit, and a cast of thousands.

New York Film Festival begins! I run into Nina Arianda & Hugh Dancy!

The New York Film Festival, my home town film festival begins before it starts with crack-of-dawn press screenings, just like in Toronto. And although I’ve seen “The Artist”, as you all know, and loved it in Montreal, I’m surprised and happy to say that “The Artist” is also on the bill here at the NYFF. So it debuted at Cannes, was at Telluride, Montreal, and Toronto and now New York! Support keeps building for this very unusual, but beautiful film, in Black and White and SILENT!

Will it go all the way to the Oscars? As the French say, “Pourquoi Pas?” Why not?

AND it’s got the Weinstein Company behind it. So as they say “Voila!” But will it win? THAT remains to be seen, but people keep loving it.

I think it’s paving the way, not necessarily for its’ own win, but for ANOTHER French-themed film Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” and THAT could be the winner. It’s still hanging in there in theaters. Up to $54 million made so far…for Sony Pictures Classics…and Woody…

And I just bumped into, on the street, one of its’ stars, Nina Arianda! She plays Michael Sheen’s malapropping American wife, in the present sections of the film, who falls victim to “a bad oyster” at one part.

She and her dashing co-star”Venus in Furs”s Hugh Dancy both ran right into me on Broadway! I’m sure on their way to a rehearsal of “Venus in Furs” Nina’s Off-Broadway triumph that I never saw. And always felt awful that I missed, because it DID make her a star.

I know Nina from NYU Grad Acting where I saw here in many, many plays there and always thought so highly of her work. And even then she had that great comic sense that has served her so well in her Tony nominated turn in “Born Yesterday” on Broadway this past season. And also, of course, in Woody Allen’s triumph which I’ve seen now EIGHT times!

She and co-star Dancy, who is one of the finest young actors working on-screen, or stage, today, both looked very happy and startled to see me right in their path. They were crossing 8th Avenue so they couldn’t avoid me. And we exchanged “Hellos” and I congratulated Nina on her INCREDIBLE year.

Which will probably get even MORE incredible if “Venus in Furs” becomes the hit I think it’s going to be ON Broadway.

You just never know who you’re going to run into on the Rialto!

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