Friday, December 27, 2013

Disaster! ***

The subtitle "A 70s Disaster Movie Musical" is an accurate description of what this entertaining show at St. Luke's Theatre offers. Imagine a blend of all the disaster movies of that decade rolled into one complete with earthquake, tidal wave, fire, killer bees, rats and sharks and set to the disco music of the period and you've got an inkling of what writers Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick have wrought. Part of the fun is to see how cleverly the lyrics of 70s songs are incorporated into the action. An energetic cast of 15 that includes Rudetsky and the always amusing Mary Testa keeps this ship afloat. Some of the sight gags are inspired and the wait for the next laugh is never long. Josh Iacovelli's set is appropriately cheesy and Brian Hemesath's costumes are hilarious. Plotnick also directed. At 2 hours 5 minutes including intermission, it's a little too much of a good thing.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Ten Best and Ten Worst Plays I Saw This Year

Here, in alphabetical order, is a list of the ten plays I enjoyed most in 2013:
All in the Timing, Buyer and Cellar, The Explorers Club, Fetch Clay Make Man, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, Kinky Boots; Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812; Old Hats, Small Engine Repair, The Winslow Boy
Here, also alphabetically, are the ten plays I enjoyed least this year:
Breakfast at Tiffany's, Bull, Clive, Lying Lessons, The Madrid, The Model Apartment, The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters, Snow Geese, Somewhere Fun, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin

Plays in italics are still running as of today.

The Night Alive ***

The Atlantic Theater Company continues its role as New York home of contemporary Irish playwrights Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson (The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Cripple of Inishmaan by the former; Port Authority and Dublin Carol by the latter) with this production of McPherson's latest play, imported from London's Donmar Warehouse and directed by the playwright. We meet five marginal Dubliners -- Tommy (Ciaran Hinds), a man-with-van, divorced and alienated from his children; his needy sidekick Doc (Michael McElhatton), who may be a bit slow; Tommy's disapproving uncle Maurice (Jim Norton), in whose house Tommy rents a room; Aimee (Caoilfhionn Dunne), the prostitute Tommy brings home after rescuing her from a beating; and Kenneth (Brian Gleeseon), her ex-boyfriend/pimp with anger issues. At a very leisurely pace, we are introduced to the first four characters, whose banter is often very funny. We are jolted to attention when the play takes a sudden violent turn with the arrival of Kenneth. Complications arise. The combination of humor, pathos, dread, violence and possible redemption did not blend easily for me. Tommy, Doc and Maurice come across as well-developed characters, but Aimee is underwritten and Kenneth is an enigma. The actors are simply superb; in lesser hands, their roles would be reduced to cliches. Soutra Gilmour's set and costumes are very effective. McPherson seems to be that exceptional playwright who is the best possible director of his own work. The play has much to admire, but I wish it ended one scene sooner. The ending seemed sentimental and unearned. Running time: one hour, 45 minutes; no intermission.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Back by Popular Demand: A Christmas Story -- The Musical ****

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)

This 4-star seasonal delight is back for a three-week run at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Here's what I had to say last year:

Yes, it's corny and cartoonish, but who cares? This musical adaptation of the 1983 film based on Jean Shepherd stories exudes such warmth and good spirits that I quickly yielded to its charms. The book by Joseph Robinette dutifully hits all the high points of the nostalgic film. The clever music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and the lively choreography by Warren Carlyle greatly enrich the slender plot. The four members of the Parker are vividly and affectionately portrayed: nine-year old Ralphie (I saw Joe West, the alternate), kid brother Randy (Zac Ballard), patient mother (Erin Dilly) and goofy father (a winning John Bolton). Caroline O'Connor shines as Miss Shields, Ralphie's teacher. Luke Spring, as a tiny tap dancing powerhouse, is just amazing. The other members of the large cast (30 actors and two dogs) are uniformly good. The talented child actors successfully avoid any trace of cloying cuteness. There are two terrific production numbers -- "A Major Award" and "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out" -- that stop the show. The costumes by Elizabeth Hope Clancy are delightful, but I found Walt Spangler's set too garish. John Rando directed with a sure hand. I hope the show will become a seasonal staple. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes including intermission.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder ****

Jefferson Mays, established master of multiple roles since "I Am My Own Wife," outdoes himself by playing eight distinct characters in this delightful new Broadway musical by Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics). He portrays all the members of the D'Ysquith family, male and female, who are blocking Monty Navarro's (Bryce Pinkham) ambition to become Earl of Highhurst. The news from Miss Shingle (Jane Carr), an old family friend, that Monty's mother was disinherited by the D'Ysquiths for marrying a Castilian sets Monty on a path of revenge. If the plot sounds familiar, it's based on the same novel as the classic Alec Guinness film "Kind Hearts and Coronets." There are two women in his life, Sibella (Lisa O'Hare), a sexy schemer he can't resist, and Phoebe (Lauren Worsham), a virginal D'Ysquith cousin who falls for him. Part of the fun is seeing how Monty does each family member in. The wonderful Edwardian jewel-box set by Alexander Dodge, the excellent costumes by Lisa Cho, the clever projections by Aaron Rhyne and the amusing choreography by Peggy Hickey add greatly to the experience. Director Darko Tresnjak keeps everything lively. Pinkham manages the difficult task of making us care about a serial killer and Mays is simply amazing. The music, falling somewhere between operetta and music hall, is pleasant and the lyrics are a witty treat. My only quibble is that it's a bit too much of a good thing -- the first act is just short of 90 minutes. I hope that the lack of a star with greater name recognition in the hinterlands will not prevent it from having the success it deserves. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes including intermission.