Tuesday, April 26, 2022

2021-2022 Outer Critics Circle Award Nominations

The 2021-2022 Outer Critics Circle Award Nominations

Outstanding New Broadway Musical
MJ the Musical
Mr. Saturday Night
Mrs. Doubtfire
Paradise Square

Outstanding New Broadway Play
Birthday Candles
Skeleton Crew
The Lehman Trilogy
The Minutes

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical
Black No More
Intimate Apparel
Kimberly Akimbo
Little Girl Blue

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play
Morning Sun
On Sugarland
Prayer for the French Republic
Sanctuary City
The Chinese Lady

John Gassner Award (presented to a new American play, preferably by a new playwright)
Cullud Wattah by Erika Dickerson-Despenza
English by Sanaz Toossi
Selling Kabul by Sylvia Khoury
Tambo and Bones by Dave Harris
Thoughts of a Colored Man by Keenan Scott II

Outstanding Revival of a Musical (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Caroline, or Change
The Music Man
The Streets of New York

Outstanding Revival of a Play (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
How I Learned to Drive
Take Me Out
A Touch of the Poet
Trouble in Mind

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Justin Cooley, Kimberly Akimbo
Myles Frost, MJ the Musical
Rob McClure, Mrs. Doubtfire
Jaquel Spivey, A Strange Loop
Chip Zien, Harmony

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Kearstin Piper Brown, Intimate Apparel
Victoria Clark, Kimberly Akimbo
Sharon D Clarke, Caroline, or Change
Carmen Cusack, Flying Over Sunset
Joaquina Kalukango, Paradise Square

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Quentin Earl Darrington, MJ the Musical
Matt Doyle, Company
Steven Pasquale, Assassins
A.J. Shively, Paradise Square
Will Swenson, Assassins

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Shoshana Bean, Mr. Saturday Night
Jenn Colella, Suffs
Judy Kuhn, Assassins
Patti LuPone, Company
Bonnie Milligan, Kimberly Akimbo

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Patrick J. Adams, Take Me Out
Simon Russell Beale, The Lehman Trilogy
Adam Godley, The Lehman Trilogy
Adrian Lester, The Lehman Trilogy
Sam Rockwell, American Buffalo

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Betsy Aidem, Prayer for the French Republic
Stephanie Berry, On Sugarland
Edie Falco, Morning Sun
LaChanze, Trouble in Mind
Debra Messing, Birthday Candles

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Chuck Cooper, Trouble in Mind
Brandon J. Dirden, Skeleton Crew
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Take Me Out
Michael Oberholtzer, Take Me Out
Austin Pendleton, The Minutes

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Chanté Adams, Skeleton Crew
Uzo Aduba, Clyde's
Francis Benhamou, Prayer for the French Republic
Phylicia Rashad, Skeleton Crew
Nancy Robinette, Prayer for the French Republic

Outstanding Solo Performance
Alex Edelman, Just For Us
Jenn Murray, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing
Arturo Luís Soria, Ni Mi Madre
Kristina Wong, Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord

Outstanding Director of a Play
Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Scott Ellis, Take Me Out
Sam Mendes, The Lehman Trilogy
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Skeleton Crew
Anna D. Shapiro, The Minutes

Outstanding Director of a Musical
Warren Carlyle, Harmony
Moisés Kaufman, Paradise Square
Jessica Stone, Kimberly Akimbo
Christopher Wheeldon, MJ the Musical
Jerry Zaks, Mrs. Doubtfire

Outstanding Choreography
Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Warren Carlyle, Harmony
Warren Carlyle, The Music Man
Bill T. Jones, Alex Sanchez, Garrett Coleman, and Jason Oremus, Paradise Square
Christopher Wheeldon and Rich + Tone Talauega, MJ the Musical

Outstanding Book of a Musical
Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel, Mr. Saturday Night
Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell, Mrs. Doubtfire
David Lindsay-Abaire, Kimberly Akimbo
Lynn Nottage, Intimate Apparel
Bruce Sussman, Harmony

Outstanding Score
Jason Howland, Nathan Tysen, and Masi Asare, Paradise Square
Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, Mrs. Doubtfire
Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman, Harmony
Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, Six
Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire, Kimberly Akimbo

Outstanding Orchestrations
John Clancy, Kimberly Akimbo
David Holcenberg and Jason Michael Webb, MJ the Musical
Greg Jarrett, Assassins
Jason Howland, Paradise Square
Doug Walter, Harmony

Outstanding Scenic Design (Play or Musical)
Beowulf Boritt, Flying Over Sunset
Es Devlin, The Lehman Trilogy
Scott Pask, American Buffalo
Adam Rigg, The Skin of Our Teeth
David Zinn, The Minutes

Outstanding Costume Design (Play or Musical)
Jane Greenwood, Plaza Suite
Santo Loquasto, The Music Man
Gabriella Slade, Six
Emilio Sosa, Trouble in Mind
Catherine Zuber, Mrs. Doubtfire

Outstanding Lighting Design (Play or Musical)
Jon Clark, The Lehman Trilogy
Natasha Katz, MJ the Musical
Bradley King, Flying Over Sunset
Brian MacDevitt, The Minutes
Jen Schreiver, Lackawanna Blues

Outstanding Sound Design (Play or Musical)
Nick Powell and Dominic Bilkey, The Lehman Trilogy
André Pluess, The Minutes
Ben and Max Ringham, Blindness
Dan Moses Schreier, Harmony
Matt Stine, Assassins

Outstanding Video/Projection Design (Play or Musical)
59 Productions and Benjamin Pearcy, Flying Over Sunset
Stefania Bulbarella and Alex Basco Koch, Space Dogs
Shawn Duan, Letters of Suresh
Luke Halls, The Lehman Trilogy
Jeff Sugg, Mr. Saturday Night

Special Achievement Awards 
Johanna Day, David Morse, Mary-Louise Parker, and Ruben Santiago-Hudson for reprising their outstanding performances in How I Learned to Drive and Lackawanna Blues two decades later. All were eligible in previous seasons.

The Skin of Our Teeth

My review of The Skin of Our Teeth is up at Talkin' Broadway: 

Thornton Wilder won the Pulitzer Prize three times: for the novel "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" and for the plays Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth. In distinctly different ways, all three focus on the meaning of life for individuals and for humanity in general. While "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" and Our Town are quiet and subtle creations, The Skin of Our Teeth throbs with energy and noise, bursting out of theatrical conventions, time, and reality.

read more

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Penelope, Or How the Odyssey Was Really Written

I was excited to see the York Theatre Company's new musical Penelope, Or How the Odyssey Was Really Written (book and lyrics by Peter Kellogg) because I had had sooooo much fun at Desperate Measures (book and lyrics by Peter Kellogg). While I ended up enjoying Penelope, it was no Desperate Measures.

Britney Nicole Simpson
Photo: Carol Rosegg

The first problem was the first act, which slogged along, covering the same ground over and over. While Penelope waits for Odysseus to come home, a gaggle of suitors try to woo her, meanwhile eating her out of house and home. The songs, although often entertaining and listener-friendly, do little to advance the plot, except in the most expository manner. They largely ignore the writing 101 admonition to show, not tell. 

Another problem is the suitors; they come across as a group of petulant gay men in a jokey way that was tired years ago. Each gets maybe half a trait to distinguish him. They are boring company, and while they have way too much to do in terms of stage time, they have way too little to do in terms of remotely being characters. Why not have one who actually loves Penelope? Maybe have two that are a couple but need/want to marry into money and power? And maybe one who is embarrassed at being a parasite, but has no other options? Yes, this is a comedy and, yes, you don't want to focus on them too much, but they could be twice as interesting in half the time. And the feyness is just old.

The third problem is the direction, which focuses heavy-handedly on silly, which is okay in and of itself, but silly for the sake of being silly grows tiresome. 

The thing with silly comedy is that it is still theatre and still benefits from calibration, characterization, and a sense of actual stakes. To me, the best comedies are the ones where you care about the characters. 

Luckily, in the second act, stuff actually starts to happen. The scenes between Penelope and Odysseus work because they are actual scenes, with conflict, interaction, and, yes, actual stakes. I suspect that with the first act cut in half, no intermission, and subtler and more specific direction, Penelope could be a pretty wonderful show.

In terms of performance, the women steal Penelope. Britney Nicole Simpson is excellent and sometimes even thrilling as Penelope. She comes across as the love child of Debbie Allen and Patti LuPone, and really, could you ask for better parents? It's her Off-Broadway debut, and I suspect/hope that she has an exciting career ahead of her. Leah Hocking nails the role of Odysseus's mother, and Maria is lovely as Daphne, shepherdess of the pigs and love interest to Odysseus's son. Among the men, Ben Jacoby and Philippe Arroyo stand out as Odysseus and his son, respectively.

The music, by Stephen Weiner, is fairly generic but quite pretty, and it is well presented by the five-piece band (musical director David Hancock Turner, Gregory Jones, John Skinner, Mike Raposo, and Allison Seidner). While Kellogg's book definitely needs work, his lyrics are clever and often quite funny. James Morgan's set is attractive, and while I wish the show wasn't miked in that small theatre, Bradlee Ward's sound design is clean and well-modulated. 

As it stands, Penelope's second act is a fun ride, but a much better overall show is definitely in there.

Wendy Caster

Monday, April 11, 2022

Queens Girl in the World

By Linda Drummond Johnson, Guest Reviewer 

Queens Girl in the World is an extraordinary one-woman play currently in its New York debut at Theater Row. It stars Felicia Curry, an actor with many honors, awards, and accolades, and it was written by the also multiple-award-winning playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings. It is part of a “Queens Girl” trilogy, which has been performed across the country. Queens Girl in the World is the first to be performed in New York City.

Queens Girl is a semi-autobiographical tale about a Black girl growing up in a middle income/working class Black enclave in Queens in the 60s. I also was a Black girl growing up in a middle-income/working class Black enclave in Queens in the 60s. Apparently, so was the writer, Ms. Jennings, who is pitch perfect in capturing the tone, dilemmas, personalities, sounds, conversation, and backdrop of what it meant to be a young, naive Negro girl of (relative) privilege coming of age during a politically and culturally turbulent time. 

I was grinning from ear to ear under my mask a full 30 minutes before I was aware of it. Felicia Curry as Jacqueline Marie Butler (“Jackie”) wastes no time luring us into her orbit. With her shining face and beaming smile, she is wide-eyed with promise, and she inhabits the body of a self-conscious, flat-chested, “pre-mens” young lady. You will laugh every time Jackie screams as she learns about how s-e-x actually works!) 

We, the audience, are seated in an intimate theater with the set of a simple stoop (“front steps” for you non-urban dwellers) and a house’s brick front backed by a large silk screen on which is projected everything from sunny skies to stars to historical figures. With Motown sounds piped in and Daisy Long’s ingenious lighting design, we are taken back to the early 1960s where Jacqueline Marie lives with her Caribbean doctor-father Charles and proper genteel mother, Grace. They, along with neighborhood and City folk, Black, Jewish, white, male, female, and of varying ages are all deftly portrayed by Ms. Curry. 

Sometimes, it is a subtle change of inflection with shoulders and back hunched forward, an authentic dialect, and a particular gesture that signals the change from one character to another in a choreographed call and response. Other times, with a hip thrown one way with her body leaning the other, Curry uses a voice like a screeching metal swing to mimic the bobble-headed wise-aleck girl down the block. Ms. Curry is able, even wearing a skirt and with her hair in two “Afro puffs,” to morph into a tall, full-bodied teenage boy without becoming the caricature of one. Kudos to director /choreographer Paige Hernandez, who clearly knows when enough is enough but never too much as she keeps us in the story throughout these changes, even during one shocking encounter. 

While it has a timeless coming of age theme, this story is set in a very specific place and time, where a girl “assigned Negro at birth” is hemmed in by unique circumstances: her assigned identity, the nationally burgeoning “Black” identity, and finding a personage of her own, all within unspoken class warfare between “Strivers” (the first real Black professional class, disproportionately represented in Queens by Caribbean immigrants) and their lower income American neighbors.

If that is not enough, Jackie is sent by her parents to an elite all-white private school in Greenwich village where she must navigate a progressive Jewish establishment and where she goes from being the smartest girl in her local school to needing a tutor to keep up. “Caught between the Irwin School and Erickson Street” is one of the ways she describes her quandary. (During one scene where I probably laughed a little too loudly, Jacqueline “interprets” the items in her overnight bag to a white friend during a sleepover. When she got to hair products, I lost it.) 

Dad, Dr. Butler, is an activist and separatist, with a healthy distrust of white America. He is friends with Malcolm X and a fan of natural, Black beauty. The regal Mrs. Grace Butler wants her beloved only child to succeed and integrate into American society, and she grooms her to keep up with the establishment that her father disdains. Mom Grace reminds Jackie that she is not like those other (read: lower class, Southern born) Negro girls. Grace Butler also acts as the “grammar police,” ensuring that her daughter enunciates every  i-n-g  at the end of a word and never, ever, answers a question with, “Huh?” That was spot on enough to give me flashbacks! 

Racism is a concept too new to Jackie to have formed an opinion about, but when it hits, it hits. She goes through puberty during a civil rights period that is moving from nonviolent resistance to the beginnings of the Black liberation movement following Malcolm’s death. Her political consciousness develops simultaneously with her breasts going from training bras to “big girl” brassieres. 

This often upbeat and entertaining rendering can also wring a tear out of you as the realities of a violent world slowly leave their stain on Jackie’s innocence (while never dampening her resilience). You may also cry with laughter watching Jackie/Ms. Curry do “the Pony,” "the Jerk," and other 60’s dances with hilarious over-enthusiasm. And most everyone will identify with trying to put on the personage that will please the audience you are with, while eventually realizing, usually far into adulthood, that the audience you most need to please is in the mirror. Run, do not walk, and get your tickets to this marvelous experience. Prepare to be transported and transformed. 

Linda Drummond Johnson