New York Cool

Theater

 

The Awesome 80's Prom
Friday and Saturday Nights @ 8PM
Opens September 10th - Open Run
Webster Hall




Reviewed by Tara Koppel

Lace up your Puma’s and give Boy George a call, we’re moon-walking our way back into the 80’s! The Awesome 80's Prom, written and directed by Ken Davenport, is a high-energy, interactive experience set in the school gymnasium at Wanna Get High. All of your favorite classmates from 1989 are there competing for Prom King and Queen: Whitley Whitiker; (Jenna Pace) head cheerleader with attitude, Blake Williams; (Brandon Williams) captain of the football team, and Kerrie Kowalski; (Kathy Searle) everybody’s favorite spaz, just to name a few, and the audience decides who will be crowned! If you dig turtle racing, watching mold grow, and any given episode of The Facts of Life, than this play is too hip and fun for you. But if you’d rather “Walk Like an Egytian,” figure out a rubix cube, and harm the Ozone with aerosol hairspray, then come to the prom!

You will be transformed from audience member to class member, and I promise you’ll have a blast “Wang Chunging” the entire night. The nerd, Louis Fensterspock (Noah Weisberg) nervously admitted that he’s had a crush on me all year and asked me to dance. In true 80s fashion, we were flailing our arms side to side to “Karma Chameleon

“Where’d you get that sexy pocket protector,” I asked him.
“My dad gave it to me.”
Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma-Chameeeleoooooon.
“Cool.” I smiled.
“He’s dead now.”
You cooome and gooo. You cooooome and gooooO-O-O.

I had more fun at this prom than I did at my own. (Maybe because this time my date wasn’t inflatable…do you even know how difficult it is to slow dance with plastic?!) The Awesome 80s Prom includes all the nuances of what you remember from your own high school years: Principal Snelgrove (Edward Kelly) yelling on the microphone at students with alcohol, recently “outed” gay guy, Dickie Harrington (Stephen Guarino) pleading for your vote for Prom Queen, and my head getting flushed in the toilet bowl by an experimental Science Team (Their hypothesis was correct: apparently my head is too dense to stay afloat.) Flush Face or not, you will absolutely adore this play. I’ll be going again. I’ve told every single one of my friends about it and she really wants to go too.

The talented classmates of 1989 also included: Phil Burke, Nicole Cicchella, Tom Dooley, Jeff Hiller, CP Lacey, Sarah Katherine Mason, Emily McNamara, Troy Metcalf, Regina Peluso, Brian Peterson, Jessica West Regan, Jennifer Winegardner, and Simon Wong. Marty Postma’s lighting had the perfect balance; flashy enough for a prom, yet subdued to avoid capturing all that bad teenage skin, while Drew Geraci’s choreography was so energetic that it made even Richard Simmons look tame.

My walk back to the subway felt like detention. There I was on the 2004 sidewalk, knowing that exciting 1989 was just a few blocks away. Who could have been prepared for life after the 80s? Not even Miss Cleo could have predicted the future would hold a Monica Lewinsky, a Chia pet, and a white Michael Jackson. Similar to the situation with New Jersey Governor McGreevey, things have certainly changed.

The Awesome 80's Prom is like the first time you had sex, except the play lasts longer and actually feels good. If you were one of the cool kids in high school, it is a chance to relive those memories, and if you were one of the dorks, The Awesome 80's Prom is the party that you were never invited to. So fish out those leg warmers, cuddle up in a letter jacket, and drive your Camaro straight to the prom!

Tickets : $59.75 PROM COMMITTEE; $69.75 PRINCE/PRINCESS;
$99.75 KING/QUEEN: www.theatermania.com or phone: 212-352-0255

Webster Hall |125 East 11th Street




Lissa Moira & Richard West’s
The Best Sex of the XX Century Sale
Theater for the New City

A song and dance show about the history of the horizontal bop!

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Lissa Moira & Richard West’s The Best Sex of the XX Century Sale is a collage of musical numbers and sketchs that depict the history of sex in the 20th Century. And it's all there, from the long skirts of the early 1900's all the way to hip hop.

Sex is similar in tone to an old timey vaudeville shows and is cast with a group of fun attractive actors who give their all, moving from skit to skit to skit. Many of the vignettes are a lot of fun, filled with cute songs and funny jokes. Some of them are absolutely hysterical. If there is any criticism, it would be that there is just too much of it. Sex runs approximately two hours (with no intermission), a pretty long time especially considering the show's 10:30PM time slot. Picking the best numbers and culling the running time down to approximately an hour and fiften minute would result in a hotter tighter show that would have the audience leave wanting more. Cuz when it comes to good sex and good shows, there is a certain point when you are just done.

The very talented and attractive cast consists of: Lissa Moira, Miron Lockett, Rick Kunzi, Amy J. Albert, Farah Bengon, Marty Bischoff, Emily Florence Brownell, Melissa Enochs, Chip Landry, Josh McLane, Timothy Ryan Olson, Tammy Smith, Franca Vercelloni, Sarah Weinstein, Chelsey Whitlock and Jason Wynn. All of these performers were filled with energy and gave it their all.

The Best Sex of the XX Century Sale was written by Lissa Moira & Richard West, directed by Lissa Moira with musical direction by Richard West and choreography by Mariana Bekerman. Many props to the artisitic team and keep up the good work.

Tickets $15 - www.theatermania.com. For more information: www.theaterforthenewcity.net.

Theater for the New City | 155 First Avenue




Greg Kotis'
Eat The Taste
Barrow Street Theater

Reviewed by Jonathan Greene

What does the future hold for our country and our government? The "liberal media" doesn't have a clue. Not even the "right-wing machine" is in the business of glass ball projections. But one needs to look no further than the Barrow Street Theater to find out. Kick lines! Chorus Girls! Call and response song and dance! You heard it right, folks: our governments going to BROADWAY!!! Or at least that is what "Eat the Taste" - the hilarious new play from writer Greg Kotis and song man Mark Hollman supposes. Yeah, you might remember these two from their last fringe to riches satire named "Urinetown."

According to this teeming satire, it is four years in the future. President Bush is coming to the end of his second term, and we find ourselves in a dingy motel room somewhere outside New York City with bound and gagged playwright Greg Kotis, who is being held against his will by three agents: number 3, 72, and 20 . . . respectively. They are inter-departmental government sneaks. 3 and 72 are from the DOHS (Department of Homeland Security) and 20 from the DOJ (Department of Justice). They have a proposition for the shaking and cuffed playwright: write the book for a new musical for none other than John Ashcroft, the one and only Attorney General, former Attorney General . . . Attorney General. He has never retired, and now he is about to emerge from behind the curtain for a triumphal re-introduction to the American Public, in his one-man-show on Broadway. Of course Mr. Kotis is none-too-at-ease with his surroundings, and everything certainly has an air of secrecy about it: the agents constantly referring to "Cheney's boys" afraid they might break up the meeting, and a giant syringe making its first appearance early on for effect. Soon there is a knock at the door. Enter Mathew, Broadway Producer extraordinaire (his last project Wicked), and later Mr. Hollman himself all with the intentions of turning Mr. Kotis onto this truly exciting and lucrative project. I would tell you how it all goes down . . . but then I'd have to kill you.

From the moment you step into the theater you are in for something out of the ordinary. Director John Clancy sets the stage with the Overture's from such White Way classics as Annie and Hello Dolly. His direction is smooth and clever, bringing the pieces together and really exercising the entire production team's farcical side as well as pushing the actor's slapstick abilities. And everyone is up to the task. Fight director J. David Brimmer stages a grand fisticuff duel for agents 3 and 72 (the resident buffoons of the story) that is performed perfectly: slowed down a bit for comic effect. Paul Urcioli is hilarious as agent 72, his sense of timing in tip-top shape (he reminded me of Christopher Guest, able to make more than the most out of his already meaty role).

But top Kudos goes to Mr. Kotis, for his sharp witty script, and Mr. Hollman for the new song. The play moves with a break-neck speed, and it is Mr. Kotis' script that pushes it forward. Fueled by inside jokes, slapstick, puns, propaganda, hilarious governmental acronyms, and a sense of paranoia - in the writing and acting - so deep it is downright side-splitting. I'd tell you about the new song, but then again, I'd have to kill you.

Even Mr. Ashcroft puts in a great turn on his new recording of "Let the Eagle Soar" that classic tune we have all become so familiar with thanks to a political subservient named Michael Moore. Point being: run, don't walk to the Barrow Street Theater to see this show, before it's too late and you're paying full price for Mr. Ashcroft's new show.

"Eat The Taste" by Greg Kotis (with a new Song by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis), Presented by Scott Morfee and Planetearth Partners, Inc. Starring Bill Coelius, Paul Urcioli, Eva Von Dok, Greg Kotis, Gibson Frazier, Mark Hollman, and understudy Casey Weaver. Directed by John Clancy, set by Lauren Helpern, Lighting by Tyler Micoleau, Sound by Brian Ronan, Costumes by Kim Gil, Fight Director J. David Brimmer, Stage manager Jeff Meyers, and General Manager Cris Buchner.

Tickets for the open-ended, Mondays-only run are $25/$20 for students, and can be purchased by calling Telecharge at 212-239-2000 or www.telecharge.com or at the Barrow Street Theatre box office, noon--7pm daily (Mondays, noon--9pm).

 

Barrow Street Theatre |27 Barrow Street at 7th Avenue





Maria Irene Fornes'
Fefu and Her Friends
Saturday at 8 PM, Sundays at 7 PM
December 2nd - December 19th
The Culture Project

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Fefu and Her Friends, written by Marie Irene Fornes and directed by Krissy Smith, is a period piece of theater set in 1930's New England. On the surface the play tells the story of a group of upper-middle-class-housewives who meet one afternoon to plan an educational benefit. But the play is much more than that. The play has two layers - a life of forced and false gaiety and (to paraphrase Fefu) the slime you find when you turn over a stone.

Here is a quote from Timothy Haskell's press release (Publicity Outfitters): "In Marie Irene Fornes' groundbreaking 1977 environmental drama, Fefu and Her Friends, the allegorical fuses with reality. Broken up into three parts, one of which has the audience touring four different rooms in no particular order, the play follows eight complex women through one day at Fefus' New England estate in 1935. Under the aegis of organizing a charity benefit, the day has a transformational quality for these women as they realize the dual reality of their lives - the happy, glossed over one and its dark underbelly. Told with a strong feminist bent of breaking societal restrictions, Fefu ends in tragedy."

The world of Fefu and Her friends is a claustrophobic one - appearing compressed like an oozing underground gas leak that could exploded at any moment. And the women of this world are slowly driving themselves crazy in reaction to being locked in the "harem" that was the life of upper-middle-class-college-educated-women in the period between the two World Wars.

Fefu (played by the very talented Nikki Alikakos) and her friend Julia (the also talented Elizabeth Howard) appear to be the most effected. Fefu seems to be suffering from what used to be diagnosed as female hysteria - seemingly gallantly coping with her life, but then exhibiting utterly bizarre behavior such as firing a gun (loaded with blanks?) at her husband while he hunts in the field. Her friend Julia's behavior is even stranger. Julia has developed a hysterical paralysis after seeing a hunter kill a deer and in one of the more compelling scenes, Julia delivers a long feverish monologue about how she was "shot."

But all the women are effected in varying degrees. Bizarre sad tales keep "gurgling out," only to be quickly covered up by clever repartee about lunch, croquet and repairing the toilet (an allegorical stopped-up toilet?). Even when they are being highly entertained, like they are whenever the free spirited Emma (the charismatic Margarita Martinez) is speaking, there is still an underbelly of melancholia.

I have always been interested in Ms. Fornes' work. Ms. Fornes was born in Cuba and moved to the United States in 1945 when she was fifteen. So, when she wrote about 1930's New England, she wrote from an outsider's prospective, similar to the outsider's perspective exhibited by the Taiwan-born movie director Ang Lee in his depictions of New England life in The Ice Storm and Jane Austen's England in Sense and Sensibility. Sometimes an outsider can "get" a world better than someone from the period being depicted. They can see the lines of a story because they are not bogged down by knowing all the details of the actual world.

Many other reviewers have written that they don't understand Fefu - there is no plot to speak of and the script seems stilted and poetic. And after seeing Fefu, I can certainly agree that the dialogue is highly stylized and difficult to deliver and if the play were not cast with actors who thoroughly understand what each character is trying to convey, the lines can come across as flat and obscure. Ms. Fornes play script certainly demands the same type of highly skilled actors that are required by the plays by Shakespeare and Mamet (I do not mean to imply that the last two mentioned playwrights are equals). As Ms. Fornes has Emma say, "It's not acting, it's being."

I, however, was very glad I saw this play (it was my first time to see Fefu) and many kudos to Ms. Smith for bringing it to the stage. The sets and costumes (unaccredited) were superb. And Ms. Smith also cast a group of talented and attractive women. Of particular note were the before mentioned Nikki Alikakos, Elizabeth Howard and Margarita Martinez. Sasha Cucciniello (Paula) also stood out as a compelling presence on the stage. Bravo to all and keep up the good work!

Fefu stars: Nikki Alikakos (Fefu); Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris (Cindy); Courtney Reynolds (Christina); Elizabeth Howard (Julia); Margarita Martinez (Emma); Sasha Cucciniello (Paula); Nicola Riske (Sue)

Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by calling Theatermania at 212.352.3101 or by going to www.theatermania.com.


The Culture Project| 45 Bleecker






Full Metal Jackie
A One-woman Show by Jackie Clarke
Upright Citizens Brigade

Reviewed by Alixandra Liner

FULL METAL JACKIE, by writer/performer Jackie Clarke, is a hilarious one-woman show in which Clarke takes us on a wild journey through her days as a twenty-two-year-old woman with both braces and a major drug addiction. The setting is a Maine vacation spot.

A self-proclaimed nerd who grew up in Massachusetts, Jackie was raised by her single dad. Although her accomplishments included achieving straight A's, being voted the girl most likely to succeed, and later winning the title of Junior Miss Massachusetts, Jackie found life was hard. She was chubby and unpopular. Her first rock and roll crush was on Tom Petty, a happening she now finds a bit strange. Her father promptly asked her if she wanted to become a nun--a code word for the real question, "Are you a lesbian?" Jackie wasn't a lesbian; she just didn't know how to act around men.

As a teenager, she compared herself to Lenny from OF MICE AND MEN when dealing with boys her age. Jackie did have another crush while in high school--on Kevin, the jock. He was the cool guy at school, but she ended up breaking his nose.

Moving to a point in Jackie's life when she was twenty-two and had just graduated from college, we see the writer/performer asking the basic question, "How the fuck did I get here?" as she pretend-snorts cocaine. Her off-the-wall answer: adult braces. Fresh out of the hallowed halls of academia, she thought the braces would help her remain a kid and responsibility free. The braces also made her feel ugly--thus she could let herself go because she didn't care anymore.

Jackie moved to a vacation spot in Maine, started working at The Quarter Deck (a local restaurant) and attempted to reinvent herself. Here she met her epileptic-drug-addict-boyfriend, Stacy, who turned her on to the pleasures of cocaine addiction. Although Stacy was thirty-six, lived with his parents and had a young son, he was considered the cool guy at The Quarter Deck, which says something about the restaurant's standards, and Jackie's. But then again, Jackie was just a twenty-two-year-old with braces and she didn't really care. She was burden-free for just this one summer.

At first Jackie enjoyed the rush she got from cocaine. The once-chubby nerd became skinny from the effects of the drug, not to mention, popular because her boyfriend was the dealer. This crazed pattern continued for most of the summer--Jackie would work at the restaurant by day and snort cocaine by night.

Then one night, there was no more cocaine left and Jackie went with Stacy and a bunch of his friends to get more. They drove all the way from Maine to Massachusetts. It was then, while witnessing the drug deal, that Jackie finally realized how disgusting the transaction was. Jackie also had a moment of self-realization, when she saw herself as she really was--recognizing that, despite all her accomplishments, she was now scraping the bottom, part of a drug deal in Lowell, Massachusetts.

On the way home her friends talked about how they would never do heroin, and Jackie found this ironic. If her cocaine-addicted friends looked down on heroin addicts, then who did heroin addicts have to look down on? But even as she judged her friends, Jackie realized she was just like them. After all, she used her braces as an excuse to put cocaine on her gums, saying it made her feel better.

Jackie had to ask herself if this life was for her . . . but then rationalization crept in. She had already paid for the drugs, so why not use them? She was still Ugly in Braces, so why not? Still, afterward, while she was at her friend's house getting high, her survival instincts kicked in and she grabbed Stacy and left. While she drove toward Stacy's house, he passed out and she wondered how much cocaine it must take to make someone lose consciousness that way. After all, coke was a stimulant and meant to keep you awake. Then she watched a couple jog by and noticed how happy and healthy they were. That's when she knew she had to get out of Kittery, Maine. She dropped Stacy off with an unusual but hilarious goodbye and drove to New York City.

JACKIE is a very funny show. Clarke skillfully commands the stage and uses lighting and musical excerpts to highlight the different beats of her half-hour presentation. The storyline evolves in a flashback format that is easy to follow: The music sets the mood; the lights go down; then a red spotlight beams on Jackie as she dons the appropriately outrageous sunglasses to match each scene of her personal journey.

Clarke is also a seasoned, skilled performer. Even when her musical cues misfired, she rolled with it like a true professional and even had a good laugh. Bottom line: Discovering how Jackie Clarke came to be among us is a most entertaining and enlightening experience, so go see FULL METAL JACKIE--you'll have a blast.

Performances are on Mondays, before THEMEPARK SUPERSTAR. Tickets are $5.00 and can be purchased at Upright Citizens Brigade Theater at 307 West Website: www.ucbtheatre.com

Upright Citizens Brigade Theater |307 West 26th St.




The Good Body
Eve Ensler's
The Good Body
The Booth Theater

Reviewed By Jessica Cogan

Eve Ensler became a household name for, well, exploring her most private of parts. The Vagina Monologues has now been translated into more than 35 languages and is performed all over the world. In her latest piece, Ensler moves slightly north to explore her most committed and conflicted lifelong relationship her relationship with her stomach.

Ensler begins her performance by baring her belly. The culprit is pretty average - there's no six pack, but it's hardly a beer gut. Still, she explains that she's battled the flabby little spot her entire life. It began early. As a child, she navigated complicated relationships with her unsympathetic mother and her alternately cold and predatory father. Predating the South Beach craze, Ensler learned in her family kitchen to despise bread. According to her father, eating it was evidence of one's shameful hunger. In her adult life, her stomach has wedged itself between her and her partner, preventing her from fully participating in an intimate relationship and shackling her to treadmills all over the world.

But The Good Body is not all about Eve. She moves transparently from confessional moments into other characters from around the world. There's Bernice, a chunky but confident girl she encounters at a spa/fat camp. And the self-assured African woman, confounded by American women's hatred of their bodies. Ensler also adopts some more famous feminist personas - Helen Gurly Brown and Isabella Rosselini. In each case, Ensler sets up a dialogue with the other woman and tries to reason her way through her lifelong obsession with her tummy.

And, frankly, this is a struggle that needs explaining. How could Ensler, a feminist, a creative, intelligent and attractive woman, be so derailed by a little extra around the middle? How could any liberated, intelligent woman in 2004 worry about something so trivial as appearance? I think this is a question a lot of us have. And that's why The Good Body, re-traveling well-trod ground of women and body image, still manages to be fresh and engaging. And while the piece doesn't offer any clear, straightforward answers (I don't think there are any), there's a kind of cathartic, confessional pleasure to hearing other women, successful ones at that, admit to the same obsessions.

Ensler shows great humor, compassion and honesty in The Good Body, and it will no doubt draw audiences who see their own struggle in Ensler's - be it with their bellies, their thighs, their breasts, their noses or whatever. After all, we all have our demons. Ensler's just happens to take the form of a maple walnut scone.

The Good Body stars Eve Ensler and is directed by Peter Askin. It opened November 15 at the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th St.


I Love Paris
I Love Paris
Tuesdays @ 8PM Sept 7th - 28th
Mondays @ 8PM beginning October 4th.
Blue Heron Arts Center

Reviewed by Armistead Johnson

I Love Paris takes place backstage at the daytime talk show, The View, where Paris is waiting to audition for a slot as one of the show's co-hosts. The play is a stream of consciousness monologue of musings from America's favorite hotel heiress and B porn star, Paris Hilton.

"What's on Paris's mind," you ask? Everything from her hair to terrorism and thankfully, Doug Field's (Down South, An Enola Gay Christmas) script provides no segue from topic to topic, giving I Love Paris an authenticity that fans of Paris's The Simple Life have come to appreciate from Ms. Hilton.

Now, there are critics out there who claim that Paris Hilton is nothing more than a pretty face and hot body with millions of dollars. "How has I Love Paris dealt with such harsh remarks," you ask? By taking her hot body and pretty face out of the equation and having the reality TV star and Guess? model played by someone who no more resembles her than he does her dog Tinkerbell; veteran Broadway actor Kevin Shinick. The bold direction, by Timothy Haskell (one of the most talented directors in New York right now), has Kevin playing Paris as a man, so there is no pretty face or hot body (or horrid drag performance) to get in the way of Paris's intriguingly empty words.

"What should I be doing this weekend," you ask? Well, if you are interested in an intelligent take on one of the most seemingly unintelligent stars of this day and age, going to see I Love Paris would be a great option.

Tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased by calling 212 868-4444
or by going to www.smarttix.com.


Blue Heron Arts Center | 123 E. 24th St. at Park Avenue South






Travis Kramer's
It's Karate, Kid! The Musical
Teatro La Tea, Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, 2nd floor


Reviewed by Jessica Cogan


When I went to check out It's Karate, Kid! The Musical, I was worried that I'd be in for a musical re-hashing, blow-by-blow, of the 1984 underdog movie. Call it a Christmas miracle if you like, but what I got was much, much more.

It's Karate, Kid! The Musical borrows characters and plot points from the original, but they've been reshaped and reworked to create a hilariously clever spoof. In the musical, the star is still Danny Laruso, recent Jersey transplant to Reseda, California. But here he's gay and badly missing the boys back home. He and his mom, played to drunken crack whore perfection by Jennifer Byrne, move into a dumpy apartment complex populated by odd characters. Eventually, Danny befriends the mysterious maintenance man, Mr. Miyagi, an aging kabuki queen from Okinawa who still has some tricks up his silken sleeves. After Danny gets his ass kicked by Johnny, the closeted high school bully, and his girl gang (the bitchkicks), Danny convinces Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate. So there's the coaching, the "wax on - wax off," the chopsticks catching the fly, the knee sweep and final crane kick - and in between, there's tremendous singing and dancing.

The cast as a whole is very strong - great voices, good acting. Andrew Rannells as the posturing, Vanilla-Ice-swaggering Johnny steals just about every scene he's in, and Kevin Smith Kirkwood as Mr. Miyagi moves fluidly between standoffish Asian mentor and feisty queen with attitude - and his dance moves are practically acrobatic. In fact, across the board, the choreography both of dance and fights is fantastic.

And then there are the songs. Mercy. The lyrics to the songs are epic. I needed to rewind and replay after laughing over so many. Particularly good are "Movin to Reseda," the opening song with The Larusos complete with Ms. Laruso banging a hitchhiker in the backseat. In "We Are the Bitchkicks," Johnny and the melodious Bitchkicks introduce themselves and do The Robot to the tune of an 80's commercial (remember those Gem dolls? Truly, truly, truly outrageous…). And "The Way of the Fisting" by the Evil Sensei and cast reveals their special…er… "technique" for defeating opponents. If the It's Karate, Kid! The Musical CD comes out, I want it.

This is a very funny, very entertaining, very lewd show. Don't bring the kids. But definitely bring your friends and get thee to the dojo.

Cast: Jennifer Byrne; Charles Duff; Kerry Flanagan; Sarah Hubbard; Mary Kelly; Kevin Smith Kirkwood (also Musical Director); James Larosa; Thomas Lash; Nicole Lewis; Melina Lizette; Andrew Rannels; Matthew Simpkins, Karl Warden; Amanda Weeden.

It's Karate, Kid! The Musical is directed by Jake Hirzel.

It's Karate, Kid! The Musical plays at Teatro La Tea, Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, 2nd floor 107 Suffolk Street. It runs through December 18. Tickets are available online at TheaterMania.com or by calling 212-352-3101. For more information, log onto: http://www.itskaratekidthemusical.com

Teatro La Tea, Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center |107 Suffolk Street



NEWSICAL
Rick Crom's
Newsical
Upstairs at Studio 54

Reviewed by Dinika Amaral

I salute the times we live in, times when cornerstone companies like Arthur Andersen close down in a matter of weeks, and celebrity success stories (Winona Ryder, Martha Stewart) turn into sob stories overnight. NEWSICAL, by Rick Crom, is a musical satire of our times.

We see spoofs of political figures like John Kerry and George W. Bush. And we learn that straight men, in flannel shirts no less, would like gays to experience the hellishness of married life. Actor Todd Alan Johnson pleads, "Please let them marry!" My personal favorite among the zingers is one on the entertainment world, where we hear testimony of the tiger that nipped, to put it lightly, the neck of Roy Horn of Vegas illusionists Siegfried and Roy fame.

The material in NEWSICAL is constantly changing, which makes it "uber" cool. Seriously, I have no bones to pick. Donna Drake's direction is flawless-and while the best direction is futile with a badly written script, this is not the case with NEWSICAL. Rick Crom, I hope you're reading this because the music and lyrics were, to borrow from Austin Powers, very groovy, baby. In comedy timing is the key, and NEWSICAL'S timing is impeccable, earning more kudos for Crom and Drake.

While the cast has immense stage presence and are all excellent performers, I thought two spoofs were particularly well done. Stephanie Kurtzuba had the audience in stitches with her portrayal of the dominating, "I want it all," child wonder and adult media mogul, Martha Stewart. And when Jeff Skowron donned a wig to play former President Clinton, complete with black pinstripe suit and blue tie, I held my breath. His flashing baby blues and enigmatic pearly whites were almost too real, sort of like a figure at Madame Tussauds.

Similar to THE DAILY SHOW, the exciting spin of NEWSICAL is that the news we see and hear everyday is magically transformed into an entertaining musical. I'm certain that all current events junkies as well as anyone seeking a good laugh will appreciate this play.

Cast: Kim Cea, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Todd Alan Johnson, Jeff Skowron, Peter P. Allburn, David Kaley, Michael Flink, Jason Hayes, Gary Maffei, Jacki Florin, Barry Fisher, Jesse Adelaar, Ed Goldschneider.

Performances are Mondays, as well as Wednesdays through Saturdays, at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets range from $20-$60 and can be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at 212.307.4100 or by going to www.ticketmaster.com. For more information, please visit www.newsicalthemusical.com.

Upstairs at Studio|54 254 West 54th Street



Caraid O’Brien’s
The Sandpiper
Symphony Space

Reviewed by Elias Stimac

Presented by the Obie Award-winning theater company Todo con Nada in association with Symphony Space, Caraid O'Brien’s “The Sandpiper” was billed as “a verse response to Chekhov's ‘The Seagull’ about three generations of Irish artists.” An ambitious project playing to a full house for one night only, the dramatic saga featured innovative direction and dramatory by Aaron Beall and imaginative video design by Raphaele Shirley. The result is a stage play with a filmic feel.

The action takes place in the Western Massachusetts home of Dervla Suibhne, a radio personality on NPR, and the time period spans from 1998-2001. Dervla and her dysfunctional clan alternately clash and commiserate with one another through personal and worldwide hardships (the events of 9/11 even touch their lives).

Drawing inspiration from several bird-themed plays – Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck” and Strindberg’s “Pelican,” in addition to Chekhov’s “Seagull” – O’Brien’s script is filled with overlapping subplots, and could use some streamlining to achieve maximum effect. But the angst-filled lives of these family members strike a universal chord. Beall and company make the most of the material, staging it on and around the impressive Leonard Nimoy Thalia venue at the Peter Norton Symphony Space.

Beall’s ensemble features a versatile cast, including Vera Beren as the no-nonsense Dervla, playwright O’Brien as her daughter Angela, Patricia O’Connell as her spry but sickly mother, and Paul Pierog as her cleric brother. Laurie Sheppard and Zero Boy make an impressive couple as Dervla’s younger brother and sister-in-law, as does Mara McEwin as their daughter. Amitai Kedar, Corey Carthew, and director Beall complete the eclectic cast.
“The Sandpiper” definitely needs some pruning and polishing, but as demonstrated in it first production at Symphony Space, it is a promising play that is one step closer to taking flight.








Stephen Temperley's
Souvenir
York Theatre Company

"People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing." Florence Foster Jenkins

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Souvenir is a subtly hilarious play about a wealthy aristocrat named Florence Foster Jenkins and her improbable singing career. Ms. Jenkins was an eccentric widow who could not hit a note or carry a tune, but who truly believed that she was blessed with great musical gifts that she desperately needed to share with the world.

Here is a quote from the press release (Cohn Davis): "Florence Foster Jenkins, a wealthy society eccentric, suffered under the delusion that she was a great soprano--when in fact the exact opposite was true. Nevertheless, her charity recitals in the ballroom of the Ritz Carlton Hotel and other New York venues brought her extraordinary fame. As news of her unfortunate singing spread, so did her celebrity. Audiences fought to get into her recitals; Mrs. Jenkins blissfully mistook their muffled laughter for cheers. One concert at Carnegie Hall in the mid ‘40s sold out in two hours and 2000 disappointed people were turned away.

Souvenir, by turn hilarious and poignant, tells her story through the eyes of Cosmé McMoon. As her accompanist, he begins by treating her with derision which grows into friendship as he comes to see that this musical eccentric merits more than mere mockery."

Judy Kaye plays Ms. Jenkins flawlessly, with wonderful comic timing and a true gift for singing very badly. She is hysterical in the way only true comediennes can be - delivering all her lines from a place of inner truth. She sings all of her songs (actually shrieks) as if she were bestowing gifts from the musical gods. And at the end, as a example of what Ms. Jenkins must have thought she was doing, Ms. Kaye sang a flawless Ave Maria.

Ms. Jenkins accompanist, Cosme McMoon (what amazing name that was) is played by the very talented Jack Lee. Mr. McMoon (Mr. Lee’s character) is the narrator of the play and we follow Ms. Jenkins' career through his eyes, from the time he first reluctantly accompanied her (he needed the money) until the end when he had became her dear friend and confidante. Cosme McMoon was a failed songwriter and even though he certainly must have possessed a lot more musical talent than Ms. Jenkins, he too had a life’s ambition that had been stifled. Mr. Lee is especially poignant in the scene where Ms. Jenkins tells Cosme that that she wants to sing one of his songs at Carnegie Hall.

Many people have asked how Ms. Jenkins could have been so deluded? How could she have not known that she could not sing? Psychology and I guess common sense have always told us that there are at least two layers to every human endeavor - what we think we are sending out into the world and what the world perceives.

But consider this: Ms. Jenkins, for all her musical faults, gave many concerts and her music was heard by many. My goodness, the lady sold out Carnegie Hall! And she recorded a record (in the 1940’s) and what's more, the other night when I was attending the play (in 2004), James Morgan, the artistic director of the York Theater, encouraged the audience to purchase the CD of that record. And the York Theater is putting up a wonderful musical about the life of Ms. Jenkins with talented Broadway actors like Judy Kaye and Jack Lee in the cast. And the night I was there, Joan Rivers (another lady who totally believes in herself) was in the audience. Now there must have been a lot of talented singers who were giving wonderful concerts during the same time period as Ms. Jenkins, and I bet almost none of them have lived on like Florence Foster Jenkins has.

So, you can say she couldn't sing, but sing she did and by doing so her singing has reached an enormous amount of people, including me. So bravo to Florence and bravo to the York Theater for telling her story.

Souvenir was written by the very talented Stephen Temperley and directed by Tony Award-winner, Vivian Matalon. Mr. Matalon won't be up for a Tony for this production (the York Theater is off- Broadway) but his Tony Award level of talent certainly shows.

Tickets are $55. Student tickets are available on the day of the performance for $20, subject to availability. Tickets are available at Smarttix.com, (212) 868-4444, or in person at the box office on the lower level at Saint Peter’s, 619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th). More information: www.yorktheater.org.

York Theater at Saint Peter's |619 Lexington
(at 54th)



Sweet Paprika
Sweet Paprika
Village Lantern

Reviewed by Tara Koppel

Cleanse your palette and prepare your taste buds for a dash of Sweet Paprika! I promise this lineup of six comedians will have you laughing until you don't want to anymore… Let's face it; this election year has been very stressful. As Americans we have demanded answers to some of our nation's most important questions. Where do the presidential candidates stand on war? Domestic policy? Human rights issues? And why exactly do they look like that? So why not continue the laughter and relieve the stress by going to a comedy.

While Bush and Kerry took their stance on imperative world issues, the Sweet Paprika comics vocalized issues of their own, except theirs are the type you discuss with your therapist, not with your Congress.

Here's what I mean:

Comedian Jeffrey James raised my awareness on the issue of prejudice. He explains that among all the discrimination in the world, there is no greater prejudice than that against people who are missing their two front teeth. his harsh reality forced me to look at my own discriminatory behavior and that's when I realized that toothless people are no different than you and me. Just because they use thimbles as toothpicks, doesn't mean they aren't people too. Thank you, Jeff James, for making me a better person. Because of you, instead of pointing and laughing the next time I see a toothless individual, I will just point.

As an American, I understand the needs of our country. We need a more stimulated economy, better job opportunities, improved healthcare, and most importantly, we are in desperate need of more Donald Trump hairstyle jokes. That's why when Shelagh Ratner started taking shots at the most notorioushead of hair since Don King, I knew she would make a great comedic leader.

So on Friday nights, I'm casting my vote for Dan Newbower, Matt Goldich, Allison Castillo, Ophira Eisenberg, and all the comics of Sweet Paprika, because just like the Presidential candidates, these comedians are really funny to laugh at!

Village Lantern |167 Bleecker Street




John Flynn's
Themepark Superstar
Upright Citizens

Reviewed by Alixandra Liner

THEMEPARK SUPERSTAR is John Flynn's hysterical story of his summer at Hershey Park, dubbed "the sweetest place on earth." In this one-man show, the writer/performer takes us on a wild ride of racism, homophobia and lewd sexual acts.

Flynn flashes us back to the summer before his junior year at college. He was a twenty-year-old heterosexual male majoring in drama, but now he was going to sing Madonna at Hershey Park.

Although Flynn was promised the sweetest summer of his life, he soon started to regret his choice. Was he wasting his talents as a trained actor by doing a "rock" show? Did he need to suffer through lectures by Alan, one of his superiors, also known as "pure gay evil"?

After a minor injury lands John in the emergency room at Hershey's hospital, Carlos, a Hershey cast mate described as a gay slut, helps him realize something: He has been parading around the stage in a white leotard and enjoying himself; he isn't the heterosexual he thought he was. He is gay. Once his admission is made, relief sweeps over John . . . then so does José, another member of the Hershey show cast.

John begins an affair with José the day after he realizes the truth about himself. He continues with his job at the Hershey Park Juke Box, doing the same dance routine five times a day.

John's twenty-first birthday becomes a special day at Hershey Park, the setting of a large orgy involving most of the performers. After Flynn sets up this racy scene, we hear the torrid rush of "Purple Rain" and experience the mood of bacchanalia as we flash back to a time when John and his cohorts Carlos, Scott (who preferred to be called Missy), Timmy, an anorexic girl and the "token black couple" all engaged in the love-in. The music couldn't have been more apropos to the raunchy goings-on. But the message was also clear: What have these misguided fools really done? They have brought shame upon the Hershey name.

Following the group grope, the cast started to leave the park. Carlos became involved in an affair with his stepfather. Scott met a man and moved away in the middle of the night. Soon the sweetest place on earth degenerated even further; there's a man masturbating at the back of the theater, and people are coming out of the closet one by one.

But no matter how twisted the place became, John ultimately realized he went there to do one thing: He was being paid to sing Madonna, so that's what he decided to do. Abandoning regret in favor of getting to "Vogue," be paid and have fun, John breaks into a Madonna song that is like no other. For despite all of the racism, homophobia and sexual activity, this is the sweetest summer of his life.

THEMEPARK SUPERSTAR is hilarious. Flynn sings and dances his heart out. His characters are real and funny, and his mastery of them enhances the impersonations he offers of his cast mates, directors, and the ever-present groupies who watch the rock performances. His story is unflinchingly truthful. Go see "Superstar" and you won't regret it.

Performances are on Mondays, after FULL METAL JACKIE. Tickets are $5.00 and can be bought at Upright Citizens Brigade Theater at 307 West 26th St. Website: www.ucbtheatre.com

Upright Citizens Brigade Theater | 307 W. 26th St. (8th Ave.)





The Neo-Futurists'
Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind
(30 plays in 60 minutes)

 

Reviewed by Tara Koppel

It's the holiday season; stores are crowded, shoppers are temperamental, and once again, you'll be returning gifts the day after Christmas (i.e. - last year's Monica Lewinsky toilet plunger; all that gift did was "suck"...)

Take a break from the chaotic mall/outlet/dumpster, or wherever you may shop, and slip into something more comfortable at the Belt Theatre. Whether you've been naughty or nice, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind offers the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Let me take you through the experience. Giddy- up.

Stepping into the theatre I was handed a piece of paper with a numbered list of thirty plays. The actors set a timer for 60 minutes and explained they were going to attempt to perform all of these plays within that time frame, each play being approximately two minutes. I felt at home because I am accustomed to two minute performances, but of another kind, in which I have no say in the matter. Um…yeah.

So why is Too Much Light the perfect holiday gift, you ask? Well, for one, if you have a friend who needs to get in shape, instead of buying them Twinkies, buy them a few tickets for this show. You will get plenty of exercise (your mouth that is) from screaming at the actors. YES, THAT'S RIGHT I SAID "SCREAMING!" When they finish with each skit, they yell "Curtain!" That's the audience's cue to scream out a number from the list. Whichever audience member is the loudest gets that play performed. (Needless to say, I had much influence in the sequence of the performances.)

Too Much Light is completely random, replete with energy, and chaotic but organized at the same time. It requires lots of teamwork as the cast quickly scrambles together, shouting back to one another like in a game of volleyball, in a collaborative effort to get the stage and props set for each skit. Remember, they're in competition with the clock, trying to fit everything into an hour. So, hurry-up and go. (And if you still really need that Twinkie at the show, gents, I'm sure you can sneak one down your pants, and gals, smuggle one in your shirt. Actually, make that two, we don't want to be lopsided now, ladies.)

LAUGHS and TEARS and WEIRDNESS, OH MY! The seven actors of the night, or "Neo-futurists," as they call themselves, bring a menu of variety to the stage. Each play is different than the next. Reggie Cabico, Sarah Levy, Rob Neill, Chris Dippel, Bill Coelius, John Pierson, Justin Tolley, and a mysterious cat will satisfy your theater appetite, but still leave you craving for more. (Especially you, fat friend, the Twinkie eater.)

As to whether all the plays were completed on time that night, I'm not going to tell you. Everyone's experience will be different, so you'll just have to see what ensues when you attend. However, I will fill you in on this: the performance is eclectic, different, and extremely original. Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is the only race you'll take part in, where you're not looking forward to reaching the finish line.

The Belt Theatre |336 W. 37th Street |Manhattan


 





Michael Raynor's
Who Is Floyd Stearn?
47th Street Theatre

Reviewed by Armistead Johnson


Rarely does a piece of theater move me to the point of wanting to run through the streets and tell everyone… cab drivers, people on the subway, even my dentist…that they will regret it for the rest of their lives if they don't go see it. Who Is Floyd Stearn? is such a piece of theater.
Who is Floyd Stearn? is brilliantly written and performed by Michael Raynor, brilliantly directed by Larry Moss, brilliantly designed by Peter R. Feuchtwanger and Jonathan Spencer and brilliantly ushered by the person who took me to my seat.

Who Is Floyd Stearn? is the question writer and performer Michael Raynor began asking himself the day he received a FedEx package telling him that Floyd Stearn was dead. Who Is Floyd Stearn? Floyd Stearn is Michael's father; but this, Michael already knows.

Who Is Floyd Stearn? is a deeper question, and the second Michael finds himself close to an answer, a whole new set of questions arise.
According to Michael's grandmother, Floyd Stearn was a saint. According to his mother, Floyd Stearn was the devil himself. Floyd Stearn seems to have been someone to everyone in Michael's life; so why was he no one in Michael's?

Who Is Floyd Stearn? is a question anyone with a family has about someone. Maybe he isn't as close a relative as Michael Raynor's Floyd Stearn; but your Floyd Stearn is out there.

He's the one that's spoken about in whispers… she's the lady you have a flickering memory of from childhood…he's the person who's in only half of the family photographs…. Floyd Stearn is out there if you're willing to look.

Tickets are $35 - $45 and can be purchased at Tele-charge at 212-239-6200 Groups can be purchased at 212-302-4848 ext. 20. For more information, please visit www.whoisfloydstearn.com.


47th Street Theatre |304 West 47th Street
(between 8th and 9th)



WRONG WAY UP
Photographed by Evan Sung
Robert Whaley and Tony Grimaldi’s
Wrong Way Up
The Belt Theatre

Wrong Way Up:
The Right Musical for the Right Audience at the Right Time.

Reviewed by Jessica Cogan

God knows after the election results came out, I needed a lift. So on November 3, I figured I could either station myself under my covers and drown my sorrows in Shiraz and Mallomars, or I could head to the Belt Theatre to see Wrong Way Up, New York band The Niagaras' current musical. Since seeing The Niagaras pretty much guarantees I'll see a man in his underwear (Robert's exhibitionism is legendary), and sadly, being under my covers rarely does, I chose the later. And it proved a far wiser choice than 51% of Americans had made the day before.

Co-written by band members Robert Whaley and Tony Grimaldi, Wrong Way Up follows the story of Arthur (played by Whaley), a misfit trying to make good. Growing up in Syracuse, Arthur has problems with authority (mom, dad, teachers), love (damn that fickle Diane), and his skin (zits!). His teenage years are spent acting out, sticking out and breaking out. But Arthur finds some solace in music - specifically, his trumpet. After high school, he moves to the big city and is jostled and hustled through his first sexy days in New York. Finally, with the help of a hipster, wise-cracking Jiminy Cricket-type (played by Grimaldi), Arthur comes into his own - and gets a band and a girl in the process.

The cast of Wrong Way Up is superb. Rachel S. Stern and Jeffrey Dean Wells join Whaley and Grimaldi to flesh out the musical, playing parents, love interests, lie detector operators, a hilarious Chistopher Walken-esque store manager (Wells) and more. Both Stern and Wells have fabulous voices - strong and flexible - that work in perfect harmony with The Niagaras' signature sound. The music and lyrics are great - think Oingo Boingo meets Elvis Costello. And Whaley and Grimaldi have perfected the banter and seamless interaction of a vaudeville duo, breaking into song, dance and comedy whenever the story requires it.

One of my favorite things about a Niagaras' show is that it's so energetic, joyful and life-affirming -- without being cheesy. Their songs pull for the underdog, the outsider, those who feel different. And they encourage us to be positive, to be happy with what we've got.

Wrong Way Up delivers on all the sweet, strange, hilarious and loving promise that a Niagaras' show offers - and ups the ante with the addition of Stern and Wells. The energy is infectious and intense. And like some mildly pornographic revival, soon enough the audience is clapping and singing in gratitude for our arms and spleens and toes and necks and eye glasses and hair and elbows … and Robert's in his skivvies.

Wrong Way Up! plays at the Belt Theatre (336 W. 37th St. between 8th and 9th) every Wed. night through 12/15 (except 11/24) at 8:00pm. Tickets are available online at www.theatermania.com or by calling 212.352.3101.



Robert Whaley and Tony Grimaldi - photographed by EvanSung

The Belt Theater |336 W. 37th Street | NYC

 

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