Sunday, March 03, 2024

Bliss Street Releases Cast Album


Bliss Street cast


While theater is an art form with a shelf life — sometimes a show outlives its closing. Such is the story with Bliss Street, an Off-Broadway show at Theater for the New City that played from April 27 to May 14, 2023, which just released its cast recording last week. The production looked at the New York 70’s rock and roll scene and celebrated Paul Sub’s Coventry, a 5,000 square-foot music venue once located on Bliss Street in Queens, and hosted such bands as Kiss, The Ramones, Blondie and the New York Dolls.

Using Abra Bigham’s book based on Rich Brotman and Charlie Sub's concept, the show interwove Paul’s club experience with his son Charlie’s, who grew up immersed within the music scene. Charlie also wrote the words and lyrics for Bliss Street. The original show included virtual scenery by Carlos Almonte of MotionBlur, offering the audience a glimpse of how Charlie remembered that world.

His band, Charlie Sub & Sound Dogs, is featured on the album, “Bliss Street: The New Era.” The release offers songs from the show that embrace the vibe of glam rock, mixing it with a contemporary feel.

Bliss Street show at Ethyl's

The raucous music is feisty and fun but sometimes the beat seems stronger than the lyrics like in the number, “Built This House.” Still, there is much here to enjoy, such as “Coventry Tonight” with its simple piano intro and sweet duet recalling the venue’s significance.

Besides the album, Charlie keeps Bliss Street alive at Ethyl’s, his venue in Manhattan, which hosts a monthly show featuring Bliss Street music. You can hear the music of Bliss Street on the official YouTube channel.

Friday, March 01, 2024

This Is Not a Time of Peace


In Deb Margolin's new play, This Is Not a Time of Peace, directed by Jerry Heymann, Alina's father, Hillel, has become unstuck in time. He "travels" in memory (metaphorically? metaphysically? hallucinatorily?) between 2004, when he is an old man in assisted living, and 1950, when he was hounded by Joseph McCarthy for being a communist and  eventually blacklisted. Whether he actually was a communist is deliberately unclear. Also unclear is whether his perception of his 1950 reality is accurate. 

Alina tries to keep up with Hillel as he switches time periods, attempting to understand him and his history and also to discern the true story. Did the president really offer Hillel a seat in the cabinet? Which president? If Hillel was brought up before HUAC, why does there seem to be no record?

Charlotte Cohn as Alina
Photo by Steven Pisano

Alina has ambiguity in her own life as well. She feels detached from her amiable husband because she feels that he doesn't "see her," which, truly, he doesn't. She is also having an affair with a hunk who insists on having feelings for her, despite her attempts to limit their interactions to the physical. She has a daughter who doesn't appear in the play and seems to barely exist for her.

The title, This Is Not a Time of Peace, echos Joseph McCarthy's comment that, although the war was over, it was not really over: "This is not a period of peace." One of the main points of the play is that this comment remains apt, and maybe always has been. The 21st century has been calm in some places at some points, but everything is on the edge and on the verge. Global warming is referred to, and current politics underline the play. The sad truth is, not only is this not a time of peace, but due to human limitations, it never will be. And Alina recognizes that she is not exactly perfect herself, cheating on her husband and living a very human, messy life.

Unfortunately, these ideas and story lines don't cohere as much as they might, and the play is both too long and lacking clarity. The parallels between time periods end up more pedantic than felt. Certainly less of Joseph McCarthy and more of Alina's reality would provide a better balance. And the open monologue, which seems to go on forever, does not justify its length in terms of content or writing. Also, it was annoying that Alina does this long monologue in short lingerie, which is distracting and pointless.

For me, Charlotte Cohn was not effective as Alina. She has received rave reviews from other critics, and I suppose it's possible I just saw an off night. But the performance I saw lacked a certain level of humanity and warmth and ended up being a barrage of words. The rest of the cast--Simon Feil, Richard Hollis, Ken King, Frank Licato, Steven Rattazzi, and Roger Hendricks Simon--were quite effective, and there were moments with actual scenes that reached a level of emotion that I wish had existed throughout the play.

After all this, Alina's final monologue, considerably shorter than her opening monologue, is a lovely, moving, delicately written coda that left me wishing that the whole play had been at that level, in that voice.

Wendy Caster

Friday, February 23, 2024

I Love You So Much I Could Die

The title I Love You So Much I Could Die hints at a deeply emotional, even fervid, show. 


For reasons that remain obscure to me, I Love You So Much I Could Die extends a great deal of effort to eliminate emotion, connection, and communication from its characteristics. The show consists of monologues interspersed with songs. The words are intoned by a generic male computer voice. The singing is performed by the author, Mona Pirnot, sitting at a desk with her back to the audience. There is little in the way of visual expression. I ended up watching the cursor on Pirnot's computer move in tandem with the sentences of the monologues, just to have something to do

In my eyes, theatre is about communication. I even have reservations about one-person shows, because I want dialogue and human interactions. I Love You So Much I Could Die pretty much removes any reason to be in a theatre. 

Wendy Caster

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Titanic: The Musical

Last weekend, the Program in Vocal Performance at NYU Steinhardt presented a musically gorgeous production of Titanic: The Musical. The NYU Broadway Orchestra, led by Ted Sperling and featuring over 30 musicians, performed the original Jonathan Tunick orchestrations with emotion, clarity, and verve. The large cast featured fabulous singer after fabulous singer. It was an aurally glorious experience.

I already have my ticket for the Encores! version of Titanic later this year. It will likely offer a more consistent level of acting and better costumes and lighting. But it will not be better sung or played.

Wendy Caster

Monday, January 15, 2024

Here's to the Ladies Review on Talkin' Broadway

I reviewed Here's to the Ladies over at Talkin' Broadway:

Eddie Shapiro's three books of long-form interviews with musical theatre performers provide a unique, entertaining look at the reality of being a working (or work-hunting) musical actor, mostly on Broadway but also Off-Broadway and regionally. His first, Nothing Like a Dame, focuses mostly on big stars/legends, such as Angela Lansbury, Patti LuPone, and Bebe Neuwirth. His second, Wonderful Guy, focuses on a range of male actors such as Ben Vereen, Norm Lewis, and Jonathan Groff. And now he presents Here's to the Ladies: Conversations with More of the Great Women of Musical Theater, including Kelli O'Hara, Charlotte D'Amboise, and Judy Kuhn. All three books are wonderful.

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Friday, December 22, 2023

A Christmas Carol

The redemption tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, and how he discards his miserly ways after a few spectral visitations has enchanted audiences since Charles Dickens published the novella in 1843. Just a year later, stage versions appeared in London and the story became a holiday favorite.


Pinpointing the first solo theatrical endeavor is difficult. Dickens, who often did dramatized readings of his writings, did perform “A Christmas Carol,” using gestures and character voices to enhance his presentation. Several actors have developed their own one-man adaptations, notably Patrick Stewart (of “Star Trek” fame) starting in 1988 and beyond (including New York productions in 1991, 1992, 1994 and 2001), and Tony winner Jefferson Mays in 2022.


A Christmas Carol starring Guy Masterson
Guy Masterson in "A Christmas Carol"

Olivier Award winner Guy Masterson joins this elite club with “A Christmas Carol,” currently playing at the SoHo Playhouse. Like those before him, he tackles presenting a disparate catalog of characters including Scrooge, his partner Jacob Marley and Tiny Tim. The lean production relies on his ability to embody these personas, with a sparse set consisting of a chair and a suspended hook holding a raincoat that also serves as a dressing gown, a dancing guest and a ghost’s garment.


Masterson swirls in and out of each character easily, narrowing his eyes and hunching his shoulders as Scrooge and lighting up his cherubic face when becoming the jolly Fezziwig. When he recounts the Cratchit family’s Christmas eve feast of stuffed Goose, roasted potatoes and pudding, it sounds tantalizing enough that you actually want to try goose.


Even stage mishaps fail to disrupt Masterson’s showmanship. During the night of the first preview, when lighting cues were missed and the sync between the booming ghost voice and the human one was off, he simply called, “Everything OK, Georgie,” to the booth before pivoting seamlessly back into character.


Adapted and directed by Nick Hennegan of the Maverick Theatre Company, this simple version of “A Christmas Carol” allows the audience to concentrate on Dicken’s text as Masterson recounts the story through his extraordinary baritone voice and sweeping movements. The black stage, simple lighting and occasional fog never upstage the purity of the tale’s words.


“A Christmas Carol” runs from Dec. 20 to 30, 2023. SoHo Playhouse is located at 15 Vandam St. in New York City. Running time: 80 minutes. For more information see