Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Broadway Close Up: Party at the Princes'

Last night, Broadway Close Up presented yet another lovely night of talented people singing wonderful songs. The evening was devoted to shows that Hal Prince produced and/or directed, which includes Cabaret, Company, Follies, Lovemusik, Merrily We Roll Along, The Pajama Game, Phantom of the Opera, She Loves Me, and West Side Story. (Those are just the shows represented last night; Prince's full resume also includes A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Fiorello, A Fiddler on the Roof, and Parade; the man received 21 Tonys!)

Kate Baldwin

Hosted and written by Sean Hartley, who also performed a bit (and nicely), A Party at the Princes' featured a living room-esque area with food and drink, to which the performers retired after singing. It was fun to watch them watching their friends and peers and nonpeers, and the show ended with all of them and the audience singing "Cabaret," which was great fun.

Allison Blackwell

Highlights of the evening included Nikki Renee Daniels singing "Maybe This Time" (Cabaret), Alysha Umphress singing "Married" (Cabaret), Isabel Keating singing "Broadway Baby" (Follies), the fabulous Kate Baldwin singing "Could I Leave You?" (also Follies), Sally Wilfert singing "Now You Know" (Merrily We Roll Along), Allison Blackwell singing "Speak Low" (Lovemusik), and Charlotte Maltby and Jason Robinson both spoofing and honoring Phantom of the Opera. New to me was the beautiful "Dear One" from Kiss of the Spiderwoman, sang by Gabrielle Stravelli, Kirsten Scott, Sean Hartley, and Jason Robinson.

Sally Wilfert
Photo c/o Boneau/Bryan-Brown

Someone else in the audience might have had different highlights--and one could make the case that every song was a highlight! 

Special kudos must go to Evan Rees, the music director and pianist, and the lighting designer (whose name I could not find in the program). With their support, the performances had a fullness and depth not always seen when songs from musical are sang out of context.

The last show of this series of Broadway Close Up is The Writers' Room. I'm quite looking forward to it. Here is the description from the Broadway Close Up website:


Hosted by Sean Hartley and featuring Tony nominees Stephanie D’Abruzzo and Kate BaldwinJenn Damiano (original cast, Next to Normal), Outer Critics Circle Award winner Jay Armstrong JohnsonRick Lyon (original cast of Avenue QBen Levi Ross and Drama Desk Award winner Margo Seibert (original cast, In Transit). Music directed by Cynthia Meng.


The prestigious BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop is renowned for fostering generations of musical theater writers who have transformed Broadway, but no year was more pivotal than 1997. Hear behind-the-scenes stories about what happened when this phenomenal group of writers was in the room together, and how they went on to write smash hit musicals that have garnered numerous Tonys, Oscars, Grammys and a Pulitzer Prize and shaped our culture: Bobby Lopez & Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon, Frozen), Brian Yorkey & Tom Kitt (Next to Normal, If/Then) and Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody, Mr. Saturday Night). They’ll share their experiences, perform songs and give you a sneak peek at what they’re working on now.

Click here for more info.

Wendy Caster

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

The Frogs

The time is the present. The place is Ancient Greece. The fabulous lyrics and music are by the one-and-only Sondheim. The hysterical book is based on Aristophanes' The Frogs, as loosely adapted by Burt Shevelove and then loosely-er adapted and readapted by Nathan Lane. The brilliant cast includes Lane as the Host, along with Douglas Sills, Kevin Chamberlin, Peter Bartlett, Dylan Baker, Chuck Cooper, Marc Kudisch, Jordan Donica, and Candice Corbin. The chorus is the magnificent MasterVoices. The fabulous choreography is by Lainie Sakakura. The wonderful evening is conducted and directed by the invaluable Ted Sperling. Once again, the MasterVoices hits a grand slam home run.

The basic story of The Frogs is simple: the demi-god Dionysus, despairing of the state of the world (same as it ever was), goes to Hades to bring back George Bernard Shaw, believing that Shaw's writing can open up people's eyes and inspire them to save the world. As it happens, Shaw has to debate Shakespeare, and Dionysus decides that Shaw's brilliant logic lacks the power of Shakespeare's poetry. Shakespeare agrees to go back to earth, and the final song exhorts the audience to "shake your ass" and do something to make the world better.

Photo: Erin Baiano

Can art inspire people to save the world? I don't know. But art itself makes the world a better place. What is more glorious than watching some 150 people work together to make something ephemeral and beautiful? Seeing shows reminds me that people can be generous, loving, and cooperative. Seeing shows almost makes up for reading the news.

One thing: when this show is done again, forget Shaw and Shakespeare. The artist the show should bring back is Sondheim.

Photo: Erin Baiano

Wendy Caster

Monday, October 30, 2023

Jukebox: The Musical

Over the years, the Broadway Close-Up series has featured selections from  musicals-in-development, including discussions with their creators; salutes to established composers and writers of musicals, including interviews and scenes from their shows; evenings of songs grouped by theme; and tributes to the greats (see, for example, the upcoming Party at the Princes'). And now Broadway Close-Up has presented its first original jukebox musical. Or perhaps it should be "original" jukebox musical. But, then again, how original can a jukebox musical ever be?

Sean Hartley

The one-night-only Jukebox: The Musical satirized jukebox musicals by being a jukebox musical devoted to, well, jukeboxes. Written, assembled, and narrated by Sean Hartley, producer of the Broadway Close-Up series, it was wry, silly, and a great deal of fun. The paper-thin plot concerned two inventors trying to develop the first viable jukebox; descriptions of some of the failures were exactly as goofy as they needed to be.

The show featured an excellent cast, A.J. Shively, Allison Blackwell, Nick Cearley, Elena Ricardo, and Gabrielle Stravelli, all of whom had ample opportunity to strut their stuff. 


The problem with reviewing one-night-only shows is, of course, that's it's always too late to recommend them. I can, however, suggest that you check out the two remaining evenings in the Broadway Close-Up series:

Party at the Princes’November 13, 2023

The Writers’ RoomDecember 4, 2023

Wendy Caster

Thursday, October 19, 2023


The fabulous Mint Theater Company is presenting Partnership, the third in their "Meet Miss [Elizabeth] Baker" series. The first, The Price of Thomas Scott (review here), from 1913, movingly explores the clash between profit and principle. The second, Chains (review here), from 1910, vividly depicts how having a job can choke the joy out of life; it is sadly still timely. Both of these, while a little flabby, were effective, sometimes excellent, pieces of theatre, well-presented by the Mint. Unfortunately, the third play, Partnership, from 1917, falls short of the first two in both writing and presentation. 

Kate has a small dress shop. Now that Lady Smith-Carr-Smith is a customer--and plans to recommend the shop to a duchess--success seems guaranteed. Kate would like to acquire the shop next door to combine with her own. However,  rumor has it that George Pillatt, described as "a pig" and "cold as a tadpole," has taken the shop. To Kate's surprise, Pillatt suggests that they become partners in business, and in life. Kate says yes.

It's not clear why Kate would say yes. She knows that she is an "eligible" young woman. She doesn't need someone to support her. And she never even suggests to Pillatt that they be business partners only. 

Yes, women in the early 20th-century frequently made non-romantic marriages. I just don't see why Kate would. And, as you could probably predict, Kate promptly falls in love with someone else. Nothing that happens afterward is remotely surprising or particularly compelling. The play might come across better with a more lively production, but it is a surprisingly lackluster night at the Mint.

Wendy Caster

Monday, October 02, 2023

Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch

It's difficult to decide where to begin discussing the wonders of Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch. The incredibly funny, smart, musical writing; the extraordinary acting; the smooth, perfectly paced direction; the handsome, practical scenery and lighting; and the attractive, character-enhancing costumes all mesh into one brilliant unit. Discussing them individually feels inappropriate and reductive.

Leslie Odom, Jr.

The website describes the play as " the rousing, laugh-filled comedy by . . . Ossie Davis that tells the story of a Black preacher’s machinations to reclaim his inheritance and win back his church." True. But it's also a story of getting by, overcoming mistreatment, fighting for the truth (sometimes by lying), humanity, and love.

Kara Young

Starring Leslie Odom Jr. (remarkable), Vanessa Bell Calloway, Billy Eugene Jones, Noah Pyzik, Noah Robbins, Jay O. Sanders, Heather Alicia Simms, Bill Timoney, and Kara Young (a wonder). Directed by Kenny Leon. Set by Derek McLane. Costumes by Emilio Sosa. Lighting by Adam Honoré. Sound by Peter Fitzgerald. Hair, wig and makeup by J. Jared Janas. Fight direction by Thomas Schall. Original music b, Guy Davis. Executive producers, Maia Kayla Glasman and Brandon J. Schwartz; production stage manager, Kamra A. Jacobs.

The list of producers over the title suggests the need to reinforce the stage any time Purlie Victorious wins an award. For this show, it did indeed take a village: Jeffrey Richards, Hunter Arnold, Leslie Odom, Jr., Louise Gund, Bob Boyett, Willette and Manny Klausner, Salman Moudhy Al-Rashin, Creative Partners Productions, Irene Gandy, Kayla Greenspan, Mark and David Golub Productions, Kenny Leon, John Gore Organization, Morwin Schmookler, Van Kaplan, Ken Greiner, Patrick W. Jones, Nicolette Robinson, National Black Theatre, Alan Alda, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Phylicia Rashad, Nnamdi Asomugha, Kerry Washington.

It's a funny, heart-warming (and occasionally heart-breaking), impressive evening in the theatre. A true delight.

Wendy Caster

Saturday, September 16, 2023


What do you get if you stir together abortion rights, cancel culture, and Hamlet, throw in hints of Becket and Brecht, and add sharp writing, excellent acting, and fabulous make-up and costumes? The impressive alt-Hamlet, beautifully written and directed by Suzanne Willett, which is at the Players Theatre on MacDougal St through September 24th.

It's a heady mix, often funny, always insightful, frequently confusing, sometimes stunning. (It's also a little flabby, being maybe 15 minutes too long, but, oh, well.) It is very hard to describe!

Davon Howard, Yuliya Donovan
Photo: Find the Light

Alessandro Caronna
Photo: Find the Light

Here's what the website says:

Two Berkeley sisters come to realize the economics of being a woman.

A ghost, Gloria B.--the mother of Susan and Bella--tells her daughters to avenge her murder by uncovering their father’s guilt. Susan, a newly converted economics major, feigns madness by obsessively interpreting events through economics. Her sister, Bella, does the same via psychology. As the sisters gradually uncover the depth of their father’s duplicity, they spiral down into a cancel culture contest with deadly consequences. It’s a comedy.

But this description leaves out so, so much. More useful is this note from the script: "This is a carnivalesque/grotesque style of performance. Nothing should be sacred." The father is a demented ring master, his new wife a giant spider. Pregnancy is represented by balloons, abortion by excruciating popping thereof. One character is obsessed with representation via social media. And that still leaves out so much.

Leah Barker, Miranda Renée
Photo: Find the Light

Emily Ann Banks
Photo: Find the Light

Here's the thing: this is a rich and fascinating theatrical experience that doesn't feel required to explain itself and that dares to teeter over into too-too-much-ness. Watching it, I vacillated between thinking that this was Off-Off-Broadway pretentiousness and being sure it was brilliant. I was sometimes bored. I was frequently thrilled. There is great skill here, and great commitment. 

I left astonished yet again at the amazing things one can see in a nondescript theatre in a nondescript building, put together by people who give their time and effort and intelligence and talent for little outer reward (but, I hope, great inner reward). It's an incredible accomplishment.

Wendy Caster