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

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Three More Reasons to Love New York

New York Magazine's annual "Reasons to Love New York" issue came out at just the right time for this review. After three successive evenings experiencing amazing talent and creativity in New York theatres, I was already in a "reasons to love New York" mood. Particularly impressive is that none of these three shows was on Broadway or featured big stars or cost a ton of money to see. To switch to a sports metaphor, New York has an extraordinarily deep bench of superb artists, which is a huge reason to love New York and feel grateful to live here. New York Magazine included 37 reasons, so I'll continue from there.

Reason 38 to Love New York: The Broadway Close Up Series at Merkin Hall. This particular edition of Broadway Close Up, titled "The Writers' Room," focused on Broadway composers and lyricists who had gone through the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop. The excellent host, Sean Hartley, interviewed composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal), lyricist-composer-actor Amanda Green (High Fidelity), and lyricist Kristen Anderson-Lopez and composer Robert Lopez (together: Frozen; Robert without Kristen, Avenue Q; Kristen without Robert: In Transit). The interviews were interspersed with wonderful renditions of some of the songs being discussed. The truly amazing cast included Kate Baldwin, Kelli Barrett, Kevin Csolak, Jenn Damiano, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Rick Lyon, Solea Pfeiffer, Ciara Renee, Benjamin Levi Ross, and Margo Seibert. Musical director Cynthia Meng provided accompaniment in a fabulous array of styles.

Amanda Green

This evening was an extraordinary delight. The panelists' stories were fascinating, funny, and enlightening--and inspiring. But performances were the highlights, and the evening was practically all highlights. Kate Baldwin performed "I MIss the Mountains" gorgeously, with a full sense of characterization. Ciara Renee sang the heck out of "Let It Go." Amanda Green killed with "How Long?" from her upcoming musical Female Troubles: A Period Piece

The final song was "Our Time" from Merrily We Roll Along; Sondheim was not affiliated with the BMI Workshop, but he was a great mentor to many people, and, really, you don't need an excuse to sing "Our Time" from Merrily We Roll Along. To add riches to riches, "Our Time" was sung unmiked, and it's the perfect song for that treatment with its gentle, heartfelt optimism.

But, but, no one beat Kermit the Frog's guest appearance singing the wonderful "Off to Denver" from Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx's Kermit, Prince of Denmark. Many thanks to Rick Lyon for bringing us Kermit.

And many thanks to Broadway Close Up for bringing us "The Writers' Room."

Reason 39 to Love New York: The Orchestra Now. The Orchestra Now is part of the graduate music program at Bard College. The orchestra periodically performs "Sight & Sound" concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that complement ongoing exhibits at the museum. The charming conductor Leon Botstein introduces each piece, explaining how it fits in with its time period and with the art exhibit. 

The most recent "Sight & Sound" was "Copland, Culture & Politics in the 1930s." Keyed in with "Art for the Millions" at the museum, the concert included "Statements" and "Billy the Kid." Botstein's explanations and anecdotes were fascinating and frequently funny.  The orchestra was terrific, with a clean, full sound and top-notch soloists. With an upcoming generation of musicians of this caliber, the major orchestras of the world have much to look forward to.

Reason 40 to Love New York: The York Theatre Company. The York Theatre's apt tagline is "Where Musicals Come to Life." The York presents old musicals (in the invaluable Mufti Series and in full productions) and new musicals (workshops and full productions). Among the York's best-known shows are the brilliant The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!, as well as Souvenir and Jolson & Company. The creators and performers at the York are among the best.

That being said, I have to admit that I did not like the York's current show, The Jerusalem Syndrome. The story of people visiting Jerusalem who come to think they're biblical characters, The Jerusalem Syndrome is based on a real syndrome affecting 200 or so people a year. 

It's an odd time to do a musical comedy based in Jerusalem, a fact that is acknowledged a number of times in the program. The York chose to continue with the musical, "ultimately deciding that the show's message of hope and peace is needed now more than ever." It was the York's right to make that decision, and I respect that.

But the problem with the show is not (just?) the political timing but also that it is written in a style that is dated and shallow for the topic at hand. In fact, The Jerusalem Syndrome frequently feels like it was written in the 1960s, rather than in the 21st century, with its shtick and silliness. I'm not against shtick and silliness per se--I loved Disaster!--but there is a time and a place, and this isn't either.

But even here, there is a fabulous, large cast to enjoy. Dana Costello does a faux secret agent bit, sidling along a wall and then rolling on the floor, that had the audience laughing and then laughing again. She made an excellent God. Farah Alvin, as an ignored wife who comes to believe she is Sarah, gives a moving, well-sung performance. Josh Lamon as Dr. Zion explains the Jerusalem Syndrome in a patter song that he mines for all its humor while nailing all its meaning--and enunciating every word. The rest of the cast, also no slouches, includes Alan H. Green, Danielle Lee James, John Jellison, Garrett Long, Karen Murphy, Jeffrey Schecter, Chandler Sinks, Jennifer Smith, Pablo Francisco Torres (subbing for James D. Gish), Curtis Wiley, Lenny Wolpe, and Laura Woyasz. 


And when people bemoan the cost of theatre tickets, remember that two people could have seen all three of these for less than the price of one ticket to Merrily We Roll Along.

Wendy Caster

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

Monday, August 28, 2023

How to Steal an Election

In this sad time of theatres' laying off staff, shortening seasons, and disappearing altogether, there is at least one bright spot: the York Theatre Company's Musicals in Mufti are back!!

Musicals in Mufti are somewhat informal (actors get only four days of rehearsal, they carry scripts during performances, costumes tend to be simple, etc) but always worthwhile. Sometimes they bring back familiar titles: eg, Tenderloin, Subways Are for Sleeping, I Love My Wife, I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, The Baker's Wife. Sometimes they reconsider iffy but interesting shows: Cyrano, Roadside, Big, Minnie's Boys. And sometimes they provide rare looks at the odd and/or historical: Keen, Theda Bara and the Frontier Rabbi. Sometimes the original creators are involved; Comden and Green rewrote a bit of Billion Dollar Baby, a show they had created 53 years earlier! And the performers are often amazing, whether early in their careers (Kristin Chenoweth) or well-know (Tyne Daly).

I would categorize the current Musical in Mufti, How to Steal an Election, as odd and historical. The cast is astonishing. A satirical revue in which Calvin Coolidge (the charming Jason Graae) explains politics to disaffected young people in the late 1960s, its humor is hit and miss, and its point of view a bit inconsistent. Some of the songs are funny, a few are beautiful, and some aren't either. Is it a great show? No. Am I glad I saw it? Yes: partially just to have seen it; partially to enjoy the high points; partially to watch/listen to that amazing cast; and partially to just be at a Musical in Mufti again after so many years. 

Years ago, when I saw Kristin Chenoweth in Billion Dollar Baby, I knew the second she opened her mouth that she was a star, as did the rest of the audience. You could feel the excitement. A similar moment happened last night when Alex Joseph Grayson started singing. Electricity zinged through the audience, and his applause was long and loud. Gorgeous voice, gorgeous man. For his sake and ours, I hope he works for many, many years in many, many shows. (Some of you may already know his work; he was recently in Parade on Broadway. But he was new to me, and a real revelation.)

While Grayson was extraordinarily extraordinary, the rest of the cast was also wonderful, with beautiful voices, good comic acting, and even some dandy tap dancing: Courtney Arango, Kelly Berman, Emma Degerstedt, Drew Tanabe.

How to Steal an Election is on through next weekend; it closes Sept 3rd. The rest of the season consists of The Lieutenant (opening Sept 10th), Golden Rainbow (Sept 24th), and When We Get There (Oct 8th). The York's website is here.

Wendy Caster

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

If I were forced to name one favorite show, it might well be Sweeney Todd. (Actually, it would be Sweeney-Night Music-Follies, but that's cheating.) Sweeney's size, wit, pathos, beauty, and lushness add up to an evening of riches. It can also be enjoyably frightening.

The current Sweeney, starring Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford, leans heavily on the wit and humor (and, unfortunately, shtick), leaving it less emotional and devastating. However, it is beautifully sung and often quite funny, and its (relatively) large orchestra is a gift. 

I have in the past discussed with friends whether Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett ever had sex. Most of my friends said no. I thought they did, although not necessarily good sex. In this production, they are definitely lovers, and they enjoy each other. Whereas most of the Sweeneys I've seen have sung "A LIttle Priest" with humor, they have still been somewhat stiff, definitely damaged. Groban's Sweeney is loose, giggly, and even flirty, and it's nice to see Sweeney having fun for once. While the production's emphasis on humor undercuts its power, having Sweeney like Mrs. Lovett makes her betrayal hit particularly hard.

Josh Groban lacks the gravitas to totally pull off Sweeney, but his voice is gorgeous. Annaleigh Ashford carries her shtick too far into the story, undercutting the show's impact, but she is frequently wonderful.

The direction is messy. Sometimes it is impossible to find what you should be focusing on. And, ironically enough, despite the production's humorous bent, it misses some of the best jokes in the show. Also, the choreography is a total minus for the show and completely unnecessary.

Overall, though, this Sweeney is well worth seeing. While not the best version I've seen, it is solid. And, oh, that music!

Wendy Caster 

Monday, August 14, 2023

Orpheus Descending

Tennessee Williams’s play Orpheus Descending (recently at the Theatre for a New Audience) was the first of his works to be produced. While it is not one of his masterpieces, it is still rich, sad, funny, fascinating, and compellingly overwrought.

As described on TFANA’s website, the play “tells the story of the passion of two outcasts—Lady Torrance, a storekeeper’s wife and daughter of a murdered Sicilian bootlegger, and Val, a wandering guitar player—and their attempt to escape from a Southern Hell.”

Lady (the excellent Maggie Siff) and Val (Pico Alexander) must negotiate dealings with a wide variety of townspeople: Maggie’s husband, deathly ill but still quite powerful and mean; Carol Cutere, a needy young woman with little chance of ever getting her needs met; Vee Talbott (the wonderful Ana Reeder), who turns her religious visions into paintings; and her husband, the sheriff, who operates in a much more concrete–and dangerous–manner. There are also the town gossips, Maggie’s husband’s nurse, and others. 

Lady and Val exist in a different world than the rest of the town, and they inevitably get involved, despite the dangers of doing so. They talk and actually listen to each other, they understand each other, and they are deeply drawn to each other physically. Most importantly, they find hope in each other.

Erica Schmidt’s direction of the TFANA production left much to be desired in terms of clarify and use of space. The cast was uneven. Maggie Siff had the presence and skill necessary to ground the play in the underpinning of reality that it needs. Pico Alexander lacked the animal magnetism required by his role, which threw off the balance of the play. But all in all, the TFANA production was vibrant and alive.

Wendy Caster

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Once Upon a One More Time

Once Upon a One More Time is not a show I would usually see. The only thing I know about Britney Spears is that she's in the news a lot and has had some tough times. And I don't care much about fairy tales. And I relate to princesses not at all.

But my old friend Linda's son is in the show. Many years ago, Linda and I used to sneak into shows together; we'd travel an hour and a half each way to see a 50-minute second act! We saw entire shows when we had the money, but that was not often. We were kids.

The thing is, Broadway was complete magic to us. The people on stage were otherworldly--certainly not regular humans. Broadway was a place for joy and pain and catharsis and wonder and breath-taking talent. My view of Broadway has gotten a bit less shiny over the years, but there is still part of me that is gob-smacked by Broadway talent. So if Linda's son is in a show, I'm going! 

He's Joshua Daniel Johnson, and he's a particularly fabulous part of a particularly fabulous ensemble. He and they are wonderful, energetic, radiant. And they work their butts off! I'm in awe. 

The show itself is fun, full of wild choreography and great singing. Spears' songs are great to listen to, and the entire cast is top-notch. 

It's too bad that the book, while full of funny lines and good ideas, doesn't engage the audience emotionally (or at least this audience). It's hard to care about Cinderella, Prince Charming, and Snow White (despite the hard work and excellence of the performers) when they are written as stick figures. 

Once Upon a One More Time is an excellent concert, however, and I had a great time.

Wendy Caster

Friday, June 02, 2023

Tony Predictions, Because Why Not?

Well, it is that time of year again. The 76th Tony Awards will recognize theatrical achievements on Broadway for the 2022-23 season. Who will win? Below are Show Showdown's guesses.

Clip from New York, New York

Best Book of a Musical

Liz: Kimberly Akimbo

Wendy: Wow, one I’d finally bet on: Kimberly Akimbo, David Lindsay-Abaire.

Sandra: Ditto (I submitted my predictions last … so you might see this a few times).

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Liz: Kimberly Akimbo

Wendy: Kimberly Akimbo, Music: Jeanine Tesori, Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire

Sandra: Ditto

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Liz: Wendell Pierce, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Pierce was revelatory as Willy Loman and richly deserving of the award. I thought Stephen McKinley Henderson was also brilliant in Between Riverside and Crazy, and I’d be delighted if he took this, but I suspect it’ll go to Pierce.

Wendy: Tough, tough, tough category to guess. I guess this is kinda cheating, but I predict the two men from Topdog/Underdog. I just hope that Sean Hayes doesn’t win; his winning would seem just too #TonysTooWhite

Sandra: The fate of Willy Loman and his family is always wrenching, but particularly so in this version … and Wendell Pierce’s take on the iconic role ups the ante.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Liz: Jodie Comer, Prima Facie. I confess I’ve seen none of these, so this is a shot in the dark, but Comer apparently gives a mesmerizing, scenery-chewing, shape-shifting, mountain-moving, buckets-of-sweat-spill-your-guts-out performance, which is just total Tony bait.  

Wendy: This category should have five nominees! That being said, I think Jodie Comer, Prima Facie, has got it. Her performance is astonishing, and the role is full of the dramatic opportunities that nab trophies. If Comer wasn’t in the list, I think Jessica Chastain, A Doll's House, would have been the winner. Truly, this category sums up the weirdness of awards: four nominees instead of five for no real reason, and comparing apples, oranges, kumquats and motorcycles.

Sandra: Let’s make this lucky number seven for Audra McDonald.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Liz: J. Harrison Ghee, Some Like It Hot. Ghee’s performance as a trans jazz musician who discovers their true self as Daphne was by equal turns hilarious, graceful, beautiful to watch, and deeply moving.

Wendy: Everyone but Borle would be a legit winner here (I thought he was miscast and not all that interesting). I predict J. Harrison Ghee, Some Like It Hot, because their performance is lovely and something new.

Sandra: J. Harrison Ghee, Some Like It Hot. This was my favorite show of the season and part of that is because of Ghee who brings joy to this role and glorious tapping.

Some Like It Hot

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Liz: Victoria Clark, Kimberly Akimbo. Diamond could take this instead, but she never quite nails the southern accent; Clark makes what could have been a cliché of a character into a deeply nuanced, believable, lovable one.

Wendy: Victoria Clark, Kimberly Akimbo, is a shoo-in.

Sandra: Ditto. I have adored Victoria Clark since The Light in the Piazza and my admiration for her intensified after reading this New York Times article:

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Liz: Brandon Uranowitz, Leopoldstadt. Uranowitz was memorable in a very crowded cast of characters. That said, I’d be pleased if any of the nominees ended up winning this category.

Wendy: I’m going with Jordan E. Cooper, Ain't No Mo'. Fabulous performances!

Sandra: David Zayas, Cost of Living. I just loved this show … and he was wonderful — steadfast and moving.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Liz: Katy Sullivan, Cost of Living. This is total wishful thinking, but in both the original production and the Broadway one, Sullivan was funny and raw in the role of a paraplegic woman struggling to adjust to her new disabilities, and a life without her ex-husband.

Wendy: Katy Sullivan, Cost of Living. Though, once again, how can anyone possibly compare these performances?

Sandra: Katy Sullivan, Cost of Living. Who didn’t gasp during that bathtub scene? What a compelling and brave moment.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Liz: Alex Newell, Shucked. 
Newell stopped the show mid-act when I saw it, and apparently continues to do so every damn time with her barn-raiser of a solo number.  

Wendy: Kevin Del Aguila, Some Like It Hot, is a total crowd pleaser.

Sandra: Gotta go with Wendy on this one. You have to love Osgood Fielding III … if only Elon Musk was so open-minded and jovial.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Liz: Bonnie Milligan, Kimberly Akimbo

Wendy: Bonnie Milligan, Kimberly Akimbo, is a crowd pleaser.

Sandra: I feel like Sweeney deserves some acknowledgment this season and Ruthie Ann Miles is its best shot, bringing a seething fury and sadness to the beggar woman.

Kimberly Akimbo

Best Scenic Design of a Play
Liz:  I had some other guess here, but I totally just changed it because I too think Wendy had the better guess. What she says: 

Wendy: Tim Hatley & Andrzej Goulding, Life of Pi

Sandra: I’m with Wendy. Look what they did with a boat …

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Liz: Beowulf Boritt, New York, New York. New York, New York is not as genuinely terrible as most of the reviews imply…but then, the scenic design really did stand out as a particular strength.

Wendy: Beowulf Boritt, New York, New York

Sandra: Beowulf Boritt, New York, New York. I loved the subtle sketching of a city neighborhood that no longer exists — with its balconies overlooking everyone’s business.

Best Costume Design of a Play
Liz: Emilio Sosa, Ain't No Mo'. For Peaches’ glorious getups alone….

Wendy: Emilio Sosa, Ain't No Mo'

Sandra: Ditto

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Liz: Gregg Barnes, Some Like It Hot. I would happily wear the same pair of jeans and ratty t-shirt every day of my life if I could, and yet I coveted every damn outfit worn in this show.

Wendy: Gregg Barnes, Some Like It Hot

Sandra: Ditto

& Juliet

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Liz: Bradley King, Fat Ham

Wendy: Jon Clark, A Doll's House

Sandra: Tim Lutkin, Life of Pi

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Liz: Natasha Katz. No idea who will win, so I’m guessing Katz because she’s nominated twice. For which show? Dunno.

Wendy: Ken Billington, New York, New York

Sandra: Natasha Katz, Some Like It Hot

Best Sound Design of a Play
Liz: Ben & Max Ringham. See "lighting design" above.

Wendy: Ben & Max Ringham, A Doll's House. Rarely has sound design had such a significant role in the ambience, meaning, and success of a play.

Sandra: Carolyn Downing, Life of Pi

Best Sound Design of a Musical
Liz: Gareth Owen, & Juliet

Wendy: Scott Lehrer & Alex Neumann, Into the Woods

Sandra: I’m with Wendy with this one.

Shucked Broadway Recording of "Corn."

Best Direction of a Play
Liz: Saheem Ali, Fat Ham

Wendy: Aargh! How to choose? I’m going with Stevie Walker-Webb, Ain't No Mo', for his breathtakingly energetic, theatrical directing.

Patrick Marber, Leopoldstadt

Best Direction of a Musical
: Lear deBessonet, Into the Woods. I was never a huge fan of this particular show, but deBessonet’s bubbly, joyous production was thoroughly delightful.

Wendy: Lear deBessonet, Into the Woods.

Sandra: Casey Nicholaw, Some Like It Hot. That chase scene alone deserves a Tony.

Best Choreography
Liz: Casey Nicholaw, Some Like It Hot. Call me a sucker for an old-fashioned tap-heavy musical, but come on, now.

Wendy: Another tough category. Casey Nicholaw, Some Like It Hot.

Sandra: Casey Nicholaw, Some Like It Hot. I haven’t seen such exciting tap since 42nd Street--and did I mention that chase scene?

Best Orchestrations
Liz: No clue, truly. May the best orchestrator win.

Wendy: Jason Howland, Shucked. Total guess!

Sandra: Bill Sherman and Dominic Fallacaro, & Juliet. Because I just want them to win something.

Best Play
Liz: Leopoldstadt. Stoppard’s legacy and the fact that this show keeps getting described as “probably his very last” will result, I think, in a symbolic win. That’ll be fine with me, but then, so would it be if any other show nominated wins for best play instead.

Wendy: I adore Stoppard, and I think he's going to win, but I'd love it to be Fat Ham.

Sandra: What Liz said.

Best Musical
Liz: Some Like It Hot. Big, splashy, sweetly subversive, lotsa tap dance.

Wendy: I predict Kimberly Akimbo.

Sandra: Some Like It Hot. Really fun, exuberant, well-staged musical.

Best Revival of a Play
Liz: The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window. I really loved this production and this play, even as I suspect I’m wrong and it won’t win.

Wendy: Topdog/Underdog, but I wouldn't bet a lot of money on it.

Sandra: The Piano Lesson

Best Revival of a Musical
Liz: Parade. I’m really not a big fan of this show, even as I recognize that the production is solid. I would be delighted if Into the Woods upset the cart, but that’s no longer running and Parade is.

Wendy: Into the Woods. I have more faith in people's memories, but, hey, I could be wrong.

Sandra: Parade. A moving production that offers context about the true story

All video clips from YouTube