Friday, May 31, 2019

Nothing Here Is Real

Mentalist and magician Gary Ferrar
Mentalist and magician Gary Ferrar’s open-ended run and residency of Nothing Here is Real at The Cocktail Lounge Below Oxbow Tavern is not glitzy with Houdini like tricks of escape or Copperfield’s illusions, yet his parlor tricks, mind-reading and good-natured patter entertain his audience in an intimate speakeasy with tin-ceiling panels, bricked walls, velvet curtains and lounge chairs.

Ferrar, who does more than 300 performances each year on TV and at private and corporate events, creates an interactive show that includes a bit done on a 1942 Shatton Pool table. The premise of the production is to show that “nothing here is real,” and Ferrar reiterates this when he “mind reads” correctly, joking that he looked the information up on Facebook. 

Many tricks elicit wonder from the audience – for instance, when a volunteer arbitrarily collects index cards handed out to audience members at the show’s start and reads them aloud in an cohesive narrative that (gasp!) even lists her name and sweater color. (Spoiler Alert – my friend was chosen for this and was asked her name when she took her card).

He’s best with his misdirection work — at one point a trick that focuses on the movement of a coin and ball is a set-up for “magically” moving a volunteer’s watch from his wrist.

Allegedly, the show is scripted — something Ferrar emphasizes throughout the performance. So he knows the answers beforehand, he intimates. He also is exceptionally good at reading people, analyzing their faces and body language. When a volunteer is asked to choose a drink from the menu, Ferrar looks for clues on its identity by asking the audience member to take a pretend swig and swallow the beverage. Of course, he guesses correctly and to emphasize the fact, he presents that same drink from a bag on the stage. Yep, he knew all along what the selection would be. So how does he do it? “Our choices have consequences that we cannot predict,” he says. “I influence those choices.”

While generally entertaining, some of his patter falls flat – a bit guessing cereal type becomes long-winded despite its surprises. Mostly, thought the show, directed by Harrison Kramer, a magician and educator, moves fluidly. 

Performances take place every last Tuesday of the month at 7:30 p.m. at the Cocktail Lounge Below Tom Valenti’s Oxbow Tavern at 240 Columbus Ave. at West 71st St. Running time: 1 hour and 30 minutes. Tickets are $49 for adults and include two drinks. Available at


Sandra Mardenfeld
(press tickets)

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Mac Beth

I have seen enough mediocre-to-bad high-concept productions of Shakespeare's plays to shudder at the very idea of "high-concept." Then along comes Mac Beth, the amazing Red Bull Production adapted and directed by Erica Schmidt, and high concept suddenly looks like an excellent--no, brilliant--idea.

Isabelle Furhman and Ismenia Mendes
Photo: Carol Rosegg

Seven schoolgirls act out Macbeth in a vacant lot featuring a beat-up couch, an old bathtub, puddles, and some grass. There's no preamble; they jump right in.  Their performances are contemporary and young and present the themes and emotions of Macbeth in a new and fresh way. And, although virtually all of the words are Shakespeare's, Mac Beth also focuses on the lives of contemporary teenage girls and the fervor of their emotions and loyalties.

Schmidt directs Mac Beth as a whirlwind of a show; it is always compelling, frequently funny, and occasionally chilling. The cast of young women is astonishingly good, led by Isabelle Fuhrman as the too-easily-influenced Macbeth and Ismenia Mendes as a driving, intimidating Lady Macbeth. In Schmidt's hands, the Macbeths' interactions mirror teenage peer pressure along with adolescent testing of power, limits, and sexuality. It's almost like watching two plays at once, and the show is downright thrilling when the parts coalesce. (However, this would not be a good version for people seeing Macbeth for the first time. Some of the dialogue is lost in the general tumult, and it is not always clear who is playing whom.)

Years ago, there was a stir when Kenneth Branagh was nominated for a best screenplay Oscar for his film of Hamlet even though he had used Shakespeare's play verbatim. This of course brought up questions of what direction adds to a story, what is considered to be writing, and so on. This Mac Beth is listed as "by William Shakespeare" in the program, "adapted and directed by Erica Schmidt."
Yet Schmidt has brought so much that is new and unique to this production that I would have no problem with the credits reversed: "written and directed by Erica Schmidt, based on the play by William Shakespeare."

Wendy Caster
(third row, press ticket)
Show-Score: 90

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Happy Talk

I suspect that there is a good play inside Jesse Eisenberg's Happy Talk, currently  at The New Group at the Signature Center. The ideas and the situation are intriguing, and there is humor and insight in the telling. But, at least here, its good points are eclipsed by its problems.

Lorraine (Susan Sarandon) feels unmoored and lonely. Her (never seen) mother is bedridden and slowly dying in a room on the first floor. Her husband, Bill (Daniel Oreskes), barely speaks, so sunk is he in depression and multiple sclerosis. And her daughter, Jenny (Tedra Millan), has been out of touch for months. Lorraine does have a couple of things going for her: Her mother's caregiver, Ljuba (Marin Ireland), a cheerful woman from Serbia, provides Lorraine with emotional support and something resembling friendship, and Lorraine is playing Bloody Mary in South Pacific at the local Jewish Community Center. As happens in dramas of this sort, things are not quite what they seem, secrets are revealed, and people learn more about themselves and each other than they necessarily want to know.

The problem with Happy Talk is that, rather than peeling the onion to get deeper into the story and people's psyches, it switches onions a few times and even throws in an apple and an orange. In other words, one thing does not lead to another: the character revelations seem, well, out of character; the tone of the play pivots without logic; and the pay off is bizarre and unconvincing. Having seen and enjoyed Eisenberg's work before, I suspect that these problems could be solved in three ways: (1) rewrites, (2) better casting, and (3) better direction.

It must be a thrill to get a movie star like Susan Sarandon in your Off-Broadway play. Fame often brings with it free publicity and increased ticket sales, and, hey, it's Susan Sarandon! However, Sarandon is miscast; she lacks the size and personality of the sort of (white!) woman who would adore playing Bloody Mary, believe she's great in the role, and speak of herself as an "artist." The other problem is that Sarandon is pretty mediocre in the role. I have loved many of her performances in movies, but she is lost on stage, lost and uncomfortable. And her comic timing is awful. I sympathized with Eisenberg as his jokes and character bits fell flat because Sarandon simply didn't know what to do with them.

And then there's the direction of Scott Elliot. He lets Sarandon flounder. Worse, he directs three of the other four performers to eliminate subtlety and rely on either shtick or speedy yelling. Ireland eventually plays Ljuba as a complex human being, but in the beginning of the show she's a cartoon with an  embarrassingly exaggerated accent. I suspect that Ireland and Elliot are trying to show how Ljuba has to perform the role of cheerful caregiver, but the first 20 minutes or so are cringe-worthy. As the daughter, Millan barrels through her speeches, though she's lovely in her scenes with her father. Nico Santos, as a gay man "dating" Ljuba, manages to provide warmth and individuality here and there, but otherwise tips into caricature. Only Oreskes provides a wholly successful performance.

I hope that Happy Talk has a future. Its ideas about loneliness, ego, and desperation are interesting, and I suspect that their presentation could be compelling and touching. Just not here.

Wendy Caster
(sixth row, press ticket)
Show-Score: 60

Tony Predictions: 2019

Best Musical
Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
The Prom
  • Liz WollmanHadestown. Seriously, can we please celebrate a creative team that’s almost all women, along with an original book and score? I’m sure Tootsie’s great, but if we’re going to pretend the Tony’s honor the best of the genre, I’d love to see the award not go to another repurposed movie.
  • Sandra Mardenfield: Ditto. Even though Tootsie changed its movie scenario extensively, making it a better fit for the stage, Hadestown was the most original work.
  • Wendy Caster: I'm picking Hadestown not because I'm sure it'll win but because I loved it.

Best Play
Choir Boy
The Ferryman
Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
What the Constitution Means to Me
  • LW: This seems to be a race between Ferryman and Constitution, either one of which would be fine with me (and I suspect it will go to Ferrymanthough I admit to rooting for Constitution).
  • SM: I, too, think Ferryman will win, even though I prefer the underdog Constitution. Still, isn’t this what the Tony’s are about—finding new talent and rewarding it? I am hopeful.
  • WC: Okay, so I saw What the Constitution Means to Me and thought it was a nice little play that I was glad to have only paid $45 to see. I never expected it to get all the attention it's gotten, so what do I know? But I'm predicting Ferryman, just like Liz and Sandra.

Best Revival of a Musical
Kiss Me, Kate
  • LW: If this doesn’t go to Oklahoma! then civilization has ended, and that’s not an exaggeration at all.
  • SMKiss Me, Kate still feels antiquated despite the updates, and although I still love the music and all that tap, Oklahoma! should take it.
  • WC: Haven't seen Oklahoma!, but Kiss Me, Kate, was bland and unnecessary. Oklahoma! it is.

Best Revival of a Play
All My Sons
The Boys in the Band
Burn This
Torch Song
The Waverly Gallery
  • LW: I’m stumped, especially since I missed a bunch of these. I’ll be thrilled to see any of the contenders win, though I think I’d be extra-thrilled to see Boys win, so that’s my pick even though I’ll probably be wrong and it’ll more likely go to Waverley Gallery.
  • SM: I tend to think Liz is right with this one. Still, I’m going to cast my vote in the name of sentiment for All My Sons, the first play that made me cry in the theatre.
  • WC: I'm going with The Waverly Gallery.

Best Book of a Musical
Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations: Dominique Morisseau
Beetlejuice: Scott Brown and Anthony King
Hadestown: Anaïs Mitchell
The Prom: Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin
Tootsie: Robert Horn
  • LWHadestown, though I’d be happy to see Dominique Morisseau take a Tony home any day.
  • SM: I think Anais Mitchell for Hadestown will get it, but it could go to Robert Horn from Tootsie. Beetlejuice should have hired him to update their musical!
  • WC: While I loved Hadestown, I thought its book was its weak point. I'm going out on a limb with this one and predicting The Prom.

Best Original Score
Beetlejuice, music and lyrics: Eddie Perfect
Be More Chill, music and lyrics: Joe Iconis
Hadestown, music and lyrics: Anaïs Mitchell
The Prom, music by Matthew Sklar; lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Tootsie, music and lyrics: David Yazbek
To Kill a Mockingbird, music by Adam Guettel
  • LWHadestownhands (a long way) down.
  • SMHadestown. The musical was developed for years, and it shows with strong, emotional and impactful tunes.
  • WC: The gorgeous Hadestown.

Best Direction of a Play
Rupert Goold, Ink
Sam Mendes, The Ferryman
Bartlett Sher, To Kill a Mockingbird
Ivo van Hove, Network
George C. Wolfe, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
  • LW: If for the baby- and animal-wrangling alone, I’m going to bet this will go to Sam Mendes for Ferryman
  • SM: I agree Sam Mendes for The Ferryman, but I also like George C. Wolfe for Gary: A Sequal to Titus Andronicus, who makes the grisliness of Shakespeare’s bloodiest play as campy and fun as its going to get.
  • WC: I agree: Sam Mendes.

Direction of a Musical
Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown
Scott Ellis, Tootsie
Daniel Fish, Oklahoma!
Des McAnuff, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Casey Nicholaw, The Prom
  • LW: A tough one. Chavkin’s a genius with space and mood, but Fish has practically reinvented one of the most revered musical chestnuts without changing a word. I think Fish should get this one, but it’ll probably go to Chavkin (Hadestown).
  • SM: Can it be a tie? Both are deserving, but I go with Chavkin because of the structured beauty of each scene, for the overabundance of emotion in the vehicle, AND for her ability to make this downer of an ending uplifting and hopeful.
  • WC: I wish this would go to Chavkin, but I actually think Daniel Fish'll get it.

Best Leading Actor in a Play
Bryan Cranston, Network
Paddy Considine, The Ferryman
Jeff Daniels, To Kill a Mockingbird
Adam Driver, Burn This
Jeremy Pope, Choir Boy
  • LW: Cranston may get it because he’s easily the best thing about Network, though I’d love to see Pope get the award in a thrilling upset.
  • SM: I think Cranston for Network is the favorite here.
  • WC: This is a difficult one to predict, but I'm going with Adam Driver.

Best Leading Actress in a Play
Annette Bening, All My Sons
Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman
Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery
Janet McTeer, Bernhardt/Hamlet
Laurie Metcalf, Hillary and Clinton
Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me
  • LW: Did you SEE Elaine May in Waverly? Because holy Moses the woman was just fucking extraordinary. If she doesn’t win, she sure as shit should have.
  • SM: Didn’t see Waverly, but I’m going with Heidi Schreck. The Tonys love a success story: from giving speeches about the Constitution to earn college tuition to opening a show about it on Broadway could be a plot to a new play next season.
  • WC: I'm still astonished that Glenda Jackson wasn't nominated, even though I didn't think she was all that good. I think it's Elaine May.

Best Leading Actor in a Musical
Brooks Ashmanskas, The Prom
Derrick Baskin, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Alex Brightman, Beetlejuice
Damon Daunno, Oklahoma!
Santino Fontana, Tootsie
  • LW: I bet it’ll go to Fontana, but again, if there’s an upset and Daunno gets it, I wouldn’t throw anything at the television set or anything.
  • SM: Damon Daunno of Oklahoma or Santino Fontana from Tootsie—although, like Liz I think Fontana is the favorite.
  • WC: I agree: Santino Fontana

Best Leading Actress in a Musical
Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show
Caitlin Kinnunen, The Prom
Beth Leavel, The Prom
Eva Noblezada, Hadestown
Kelli O’Hara, Kiss Me, Kate
  • LW: This is tough. Block and Leavel stand out most from where I sit—and I think Block is favored over Leavel, so I’ll bet it’ll be her.
  • SM: Definitely Block. She captured the legendary Cher perfectly.
  • WC: I agree: Stephanie Block.

Best Featured Actor in a Play
Bertie Carvel, Ink
Robin de Jesús, The Boys in the Band
Gideon Glick, To Kill a Mockingbird
Brandon Uranowitz, Burn This
Benjamin Walker, All My Sons
  • LW: I’d love to see Robin de Jesús win for “The Boys in the Band” though I haven’t seen a great many of the contenders and I suspect the dude nominated for Ink (Bertie Carvel) will get it instead.
  • SM: Ditto on Bertie Carvel for Ink.
  • WC: Although I was not impressed with Benjamin Walker personally, a lot of other people were.

Best Featured Actress in a Play
Fionnula Flanagan, The Ferryman
Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird
Kristine Nielsen, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Julie White, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Ruth Wilson, King Lear
  • LW: Fionnula Flanagan was particularly memorable in The Ferryman, though I’d be happy to see any of these women win.
  • SM: Flanagan should get it or Celia Keenan-Bolger in To Kill a Mockingbird. She made a grown-up version of Scout believable and touching.
  • WC: I'm going with Ruth Wilson, who was the best thing in Lear.

Best Featured Actor in a Musical
André De Shields, Hadestown
Andy Grotelueschen, Tootsie
Patrick Page, Hadestown
Jeremy Pope, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Ephraim Sykes, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
  • LW: C’mon, people, give André De Shields some love for this role and for a career as one of the hardest working men in show business, will you please? But if not, seriously, then Patrick Page, ditto. Then again, they’re all awesome and brilliant at what they do, so whatever.
  • SM: Love De Shields, but Patrick Page, and that deep voice from Hell should get it.
  • WC: I think it will be Andy Grotelueschen because he's the only one who won't be splitting the vote with someone else from his show.

Best Featured Actress in a Musical
Lilli Cooper, Tootsie
Amber Gray, Hadestown
Sarah Stiles, Tootsie
Ali Stroker, Oklahoma!
Mary Testa, Oklahoma!
  • LW: Don’t make me pick this one! Just give them all a prize for ending up in the most competitive competition in the whole goddamn Tony awards, maybe ever in all of history. Truly, choosing one feels like a betrayal to all the other astounding brilliance. But Ali Stroker, probably.
  • SM: Sorry Amber Gray from Hadestown. I truly loved your joyfulness and energy but it's Ali Stroker’s year.
  • WC: While I suspect Ali Stoker will indeed win, I cannot vote against Amber Gray, who strikes me as a great star in the making and whom I adored.

Best Scenic Design of a Play
Miriam Buether, To Kill a Mockingbird
Bunny Christie, Ink
Rob Howell, The Ferryman
Santo Loquasto, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Jan Versweyveld, Network
  • LW: I’m thinking it’ll go to The Ferrymanthough I haven’t seen Mockingbird.
  • SM: Rob Howell, The Ferryman
  • WCSanto Loquasto

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Robert Brill and Peter Nigrini, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Peter England, King Kong
Rachel Hauck, Hadestown
Laura Jellinek, Oklahoma!
David Korins, Beetlejuice
  • LW: For me it’s between Hadestown and Oklahoma! with a slight edge toward the latter.
  • SM: I gotta go with the monkey so Peter England from King Kong. Although Rachel Hauck of Hadestown is probably going to win
  • WC: Total guess: King Kong

Best Costume Design of a Play
Rob Howell, The Ferryman
Toni-Leslie James, Bernhardt/Hamlet
Clint Ramos, Torch Song
Ann Roth, To Kill a Mockingbird
Ann Roth, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
  • LW: No clue. Ann Roth for one or the other? And will she be upset if she loses out to herself?
  • SM: I think  Ann Roth has the best odds …
  • WC:  Ann Roth for Gary

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Michael Krass, Hadestown
William Ivey Long, Tootsie
William Ivey Long, Beetlejuice
Bob Mackie, The Cher Show
Paul Tazewell, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
  • LW If Bob Mackie doesn't win, his life will be a total sham and we will all have to apologize to him, both collectively and personally.  
  • SM Bob Mackie all they way for The Cher Show.
  • WC: Who am I to argue:  Bob Mackie

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Neil Austin, Ink
Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Peter Mumford, The Ferryman
Jennifer Tipton, To Kill a Mockingbird
Jan Versweyveld and Tal Yarden, Network
  • LW: Peter Mumford, The Ferryman
  • SM: Peter Mumford, The Ferryman
  • WC: Jan Versweyveld and Tal YardenNetwork

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Kevin Adams, The Cher Show
Howell Binkley, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Bradley King, Hadestown
Peter Mumford, King Kong
Kenneth Posner and Peter Nigrini, Beetlejuice
  • LW: I gasped aloud at a few moments during Hadestown, which is one of the most visually beautiful musicals I've ever seen. It should go to King.  
  • SM: It’s amazing how Bradley King changes the mood onstage with light adjustment in Hadestown.
  • WC: Kevin AdamsThe Cher Show

Best Sound Design in a Play
Adam Cork, Ink
Scott Lehrer, To Kill a Mockingbird
Fitz Patton, Choir Boy
Nick Powell, The Ferryman
Eric Sleichim, Network
  • LW I think the Ferryman will take this, if only for the slow sonic build at the end of the three-hour saga.  
  • SM: Fitz PattonChoir Boy.
  • WC: Eric SleichimNetwork

Best Sound Design in a Musical
Peter Hylenski, King Kong
Peter Hylenski, Beetlejuice
Steve Canyon Kennedy, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Drew Levy, Oklahoma!
Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz, Hadestown
  • LW: I’m leaning toward Oklahoma!
  • SM: I think Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz for Hadestown.  
  • WC: Who knows? Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

Best Choreography
Camille A. Brown, Choir Boy
Warren Carlyle, Kiss Me, Kate
Denis Jones, Tootsie
David Neumann, Hadestown
Sergio Trujillo, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
  • LW: I was delighted by Brown’s choreography for Choir Boy but suspect Tootsie.  
  • SM: Warren Carlyle for Kiss Me, Kate. The dancing is the best thing about the show—and he shows you why tap is still relevant as an art form.
  • WC: Sergio TrujilloAin’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

Best Orchestrations
Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose, Hadestown
Simon Hale, Tootsie
Larry Hochman, Kiss Me, Kate
Daniel Kluger, Oklahoma!
Harold Wheeler, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
  • SM: Liz seems so passionate with this one, so I’m gonna side with her. Oklahoma!
  • WC: Peer pressure! Oklahoma!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Pink Unicorn

Trisha Lee works as a cleaner in a hospital in Sparkton, Texas. She is a church-going Christian. She adored her late husband. The focus of her life is her 14-year-old daughter Jolene. Or is it Jo? And what does "gender fluid" mean? And will Trisha ever get used to calling Jolene, no, Jo, "they"?

Photo: JazelleArtistry

While Trisha is gob-smacked at Jo's announcement of gender fluidity, she responds totally from a place of love. Well, love mixed with confusion and fear. And when her pastor compares the LGBT community to Nazis, and the school system cancels all after-school activities rather than allow a Gay-Straight Alliance, Trisha finds herself turning into an activist, even while dragging her feet at every step.

Although playwright Elise Forier Edie, herself the parent of a trans child, occasionally leans toward "transgender 101" in Pink Unicorn, she also fills the play with love and compassion and knowledge and an important sense of the grays in which most people live, rather than the blacks and whites of the doctrinaire and the haters. 

Edie is most fortunate in having Amy E. Jones as her director and, particularly, Alice Ripley as Trish. Among other strengths, Jones utilizes the whole stage in Pink Unicorn, providing visual variety in this one-woman show while never having Trish's movements seem arbitrary. And Ripley imbues Trish with a deep humanity. One-person shows can be staid, but Ripley brings Pink Unicorn to life by reliving the story as she tells it to us.

Wendy Caster
(first row; press ticket)
Show-Score: 80

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Caroline, or Change

One of the themes of the gorgeous and heart-breaking Caroline, or Change, the story of an African-American maid working for a Jewish family in the 1960s South, is that "change come fast, change come slow, but change come." Caroline, written by Tony Kushner with music by Jeanine Tesori, premiered in 2003. Unfortunately, in 2019, in the superb production currently playing at APAC in Queens, another one of its themes is that change is still terribly needed.

Lauren Singerman, LaDonna Burns
Photo: Michael R. Dekker
Caroline's life is tediously difficult. She spends far too much of it cleaning and doing the Gellmans' laundry in a hot room in the hot South. She has four kids, and she would do anything for them--such as continuing to do the Gellmans' laundry in that purgatory of a laundry room. Larry, her oldest, is in Vietnam, "wherever that is." Her next oldest, Emmie, has a mind of her own, which terrifies Caroline but also makes her proud.

Noah, the 8-year-old son of the Gellman family, is always sad, but he is comforted by what he perceives as his friendship with Caroline. Noah's mother died a few years back, and his father married her best friend Rose. Noah's father is wraith-like nonpresence, and Noah hates Rose, mostly for not being his dead mother. But he adores Caroline despite her anger and unwillingness to be nice to him. Rose, whose good-heartedness is unfortunately dwarfed by her cluelessness, also tries to befriend Caroline.

Noah tends to leave change in his pockets when he puts his pants in the hamper. Rose decides to teach him a lesson, and to "help" Caroline, by telling Caroline to keep whatever money she finds. In Kushner's brilliant hands, this small, weird decision turns that awful laundry room into a crucible in which Caroline's heart and soul are tested.

Caroline combines theatrical magic realism (the washer and dryer are personified) with hard-hitting reality (Caroline's ex-husband being refused employment after the war because he's black; bills that can't be paid; buses that never come). It has humor and warmth amid the heartbreak, and its deep sadness is mitigated for the audience by its deep beauty. Tesori's thrilling score utilizes the sounds of Motown, spirituals, blues, Motown, and klezmer, with perfectly chosen quotes from well-known songs (e.g., "America, the Beautiful"). Kushner's book and lyrics work on many levels, with wit, compassion, and great humanity.

Caroline is not an easy show to do. It requires a first-class cast and a director with a sure hand. In the APAC production, it has both, along with a small but excellent band and solid production values.

The role of Caroline demands a tour de force performance that ranges from subtlety to raw power. LaDonna Burns' performance is frighteningly good. Even while keeping Caroline as closed-off and angry as she needs to be, Burns provides a three-dimensional portrait of a complex woman who is a hero with a horribly limited battlefield and no parades or medals. (To further attest to Burns' outstanding talent, she was an amazing Stella in APAC's Follies, funny and likeable.)

The rest of the cast is also top-notch, really as good as you could ask for. My only complaint was that a couple of people didn't project that well, but all in all it was an extreme pleasure to hear the casts' glorious voices unmiked.

Caroline is directed by Dev Bondarin, of whom I am a great fan. Bondarin goes to the heart of a show, understands it on all levels, and honors the work by presenting it in its best light. I saw Caroline, or Change both Off-Broadway and on, and thanks to Bondarin and everyone else involved, this production is every bit as amazing.

Wendy Caster
(first row, press ticket)
Show-Score: 98