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theater reviews

  • Originally published 09/01/2015

    Ginger Rogers Misses A Few Steps and Turns

    The musical tries to zero in on Ginger’s life from about 1930 to 1940, showing how her success was due to an unbelievable work ethic, a lot of pushing from her mom and, well, good luck. There is much good in the musical, but somewhere along the way, the Ginger Rogers musical misses a few steps.

  • Originally published 08/23/2015

    Alexander Hamilton and the Hip Hop Founding of America

    Hamilton is the revolution on stage, history come to life, strong fists trust into the air and bold men and women singing their hearts out for the overthrow of the British yoke and the emergence of a new world order on the shores of the United States.

  • Originally published 07/18/2015

    Back in in the Days before Voice Mail

    A review of "Bells Are Ringing," a new production of the 1950s hit play that explores the now-strange and exotic world of a telephone service girl. 

  • Originally published 07/18/2015

    The 1970s Feminist Heroine and Who She Left Behind

    Whatever happened to all of the firebrand 1970s freedom-now feminists who filled the covers of the news magazines? What happened when the photographers went away? It's the plot of a new play.

  • Originally published 07/15/2015

    The Perfect Murder: 1978

    Deathtrap is undergoing a superb revival at the Fitzpatrick Main Stage, part of the Berkshire Theatre Group’s summer season, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

  • Originally published 07/10/2015

    Sayonara and 1952 Japan

    The play, just as emotionally gut wrenching as the 1957 movie starring Marlon Brando and Red Buttons, probes racism in 1952 Japan, while the U.S. Army was in its waning days of occupying the country.

  • Originally published 06/02/2015

    A Royal Family’s Look at the Roaring Twenties

    The Royal Family is a sharp and witty play, carried by marvelous actors, and lights up the skies of early summer. It is a gem of a play and a nice historical look at the 1920s in New York, Hollywood and Europe.

  • Originally published 04/17/2015

    Let’s Hear It for Bill and Hillary

    If you want to really get a good laugh at the expense of William Jefferson Clinton and his wife Hillary, see Clinton: the Musical. It is uproarious, a brilliant and rousing story of the Arkansas Ramblers.

  • Originally published 04/13/2015

    The Jet Set, Paris, 1900

    Gigi is an absolute delight with Vanessa Hudgens kidnapping the emotions of the audience and never letting go.

  • Originally published 03/16/2015

    Bells Will Ring for the Latest Hunchback of Notre Dame

    The new, revised musical, said to be headed towards Broadway, is a lustrous story that really brings the history of Paris in 1482 to life in all of its glory, and in all of its poverty and misery, too.

  • Originally published 03/09/2015

    Slavery Is Back with a Chill

    The play is like a ship that needs a big breeze in its sails, but history lovers will enjoy it because it presents a lot of little known information about slavery in America.

  • Originally published 02/23/2015

    Winston Churchill: Back and as Feisty as Ever

    Ronald Keaton is a delight as Britain’s wartime leader in Churchill, written by Keaton and nicely directed by Kurt Johns. Keaton brings the English leader back to life in an admirable show that is extraordinarily informative.

  • Originally published 02/02/2015

    Winds of War in Gay London, 1939

    History lovers will enjoy the play. Playwright Morrison puts you right there in center city London amid air raid sirens, radio pre-war broadcasts and newspaper headlines.

  • Originally published 01/26/2015

    South African Apartheid as Ugly History

    Sizwe Banzi Is Dead succeeds because of Fugard’s superb script, but it soars, too, due to the superior acting of Atandwa Kani as Styles, the passport schemer, and Mncedisi Shabangu as Sizwe. 

  • Originally published 11/21/2014

    A Powerful Look at America’s Freaks

    Side Show is the sensational story of the Hilton twins, Violent and Daisy, who gained fame in the Great Depression when they became stars of a circus side show, the movie Freaks and a touring show of their own.

  • Originally published 11/14/2014

    America’s Classic Soup Kitchen Thrives

    Grand Concourse is a well written look at the latest in a long line of soup kitchens that have saved the lives of millions of hungry Americans over the years and the people who run them.

  • Originally published 11/07/2014

    The Ghosts of Vietnam Are back

    It is as riveting today as it was then because all of the anti-war sentiment in the play can be felt once again, but not against Vietnam.

  • Originally published 10/10/2014

    Can-Can Kicks into a New Era

    Can-Can is a bawdy, boisterous show that will please all, not just those that saw the 1960 movie starring Frank Sinatra.

  • Originally published 09/12/2014

    Turning 1930s Abstract Art into Engaging History

    Bauer is a marvelous play that not only fills you in on Nazi Germany, artistic and political history and the lives of ‘degenerate’ artists, but on the numerous plots and subplots of the Guggenheim deal.

  • Originally published 09/05/2014

    1936 Olympics Relays – No Jews Allowed

    Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Game in Berlin.  But this is the story of how Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, phenomenally fast runners, were kicked off the American 400 meter relay team in the ’36 Olympics because they were Jews.

  • Originally published 08/11/2014

    The Marx Brothers Are Back!

    What makes I’ll Say She Is so good is the staging of the play, sequined chorus girls still dancing and prancing in it, and the sensational performance of the magnetic Diamond as Groucho.

  • Originally published 08/11/2014

    A Dreary Day in 1610

    What on earth are these people trying to do and how are they doing it?

  • Originally published 06/27/2014

    Husband vs. Wife, 1672 (Guess Who Wins?)

    The cast of Learned Ladies has hijacked the play, tossed it into the back of a horse drawn French carriage and roared off into the darkness with it.

  • Originally published 04/11/2014

    Fishing for Wives

    The Puzzled Japanese ‘Picture Brides’ of Hawaii in 1913

  • Originally published 04/11/2014

    Speakeasy Dollhouse

    Drinking with the Booth Brothers at the Start of Prohibition: Why did John Wilkes Really Shoot Abraham Lincoln?

  • Originally published 04/04/2014

    Hello Louie: Satchmo and His Horn Ride High Again

    In this scintillating new one man show, Armstrong, in his dressing room between Waldorf concerts, reminisces about his life and career over the tumult of racial history, rekindling sometimes bitter and sometimes sweet memories.

  • Originally published 07/14/2013

    The Real Housewives of London

    Fallen Angels Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey 36 Madison Ave, Madison, NJ Madison, New JerseyThe Real Housewives of New Jersey, Beverly Hills, New York, Orange County and the rest of those shows are rank amateurs at sex, lying, deceit, treachery, materialism and greed compared to the London housewives in Noel Coward’s outrageously funny play Fallen Angels, which opened in 1925.The rollicking play about sexuality in tepid old London town in the middle of the Roaring Twenties opened last weekend at the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey and this hilarious new production is so bright and refreshing that it could have been written by Coward last Tuesday. It could be lifted, whole, and used as a Real Housewives episode.

  • Originally published 07/14/2013

    Country Matters in Elizabethan England

    As You Like It Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey 36 Madison Ave, Madison, NJ Drew UniversityAll is not well in the city where William Shakespeare’s As You Like It begins. The play, written in 1599, now running at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, charts the problems of urban life as cities grow, often without much order, in contrast to the increasingly inviting green retreats of the rural countryside. Within this conflict is the romance between Orlando, a frustrated younger brother in a powerful family, and the lovely Rosalind, a Duke’s daughter.Separately, the pair flees the city and seeks out the solitude of the Forest of Arden, with its thick clusters of trees, meandering streams and cast of characters. Rosalind disguises herself as a man so that she can keep an eye on Orlando, who is smitten with her as a girl. They are one of several pairs of lovers in the forest. The play is simple and relies on its director and actors to make it interesting. They do. As You Like It is impressive.

  • Originally published 06/09/2013

    Very Far from Heaven in 1957 Connecticut

    Far From Heaven Playwrights Horizon 416 W. 42nd Street New York, N.Y.Fans of the 2002 movie Far from Heaven will flock to the play version of the story, which just opened at Playwrights Horizon in New York. This time the work is a stage musical, not a drama, but the play has much of the same punch as the movie. It is emotional, troubling story of the underbelly of life in quiet Connecticut, in 1957 America, just before the Civil Rights movement gained steam and long before the gay rights movement caught fire.

  • Originally published 06/09/2013

    "Playboy of the Western World" Misses the Party

    Playboy of the Western World Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey Drew University Madison, N.J.In the novel The Great Gatsby, partygoers at Jay Gatsby’s elegant mansion are thrilled to hear a rumor that Gatsby had killed a man. In their champagne drenched eyes, a killer was a hero.In the play and movie Chicago, murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly are turned into singing, dancing heroines in the middle of the Roaring Twenties because they killed the men in their lives.In Playboy of the Western World, by J.M. Synge, which just opened at the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, residents of a small village in Ireland in 1907 treat their odd visitor, young Christy Mahon, as a God when he announces with triumphal glee that he has just murdered his father. Men see him as an admirable character and women go crazy over him.

  • Originally published 05/27/2013

    Hooray for Bollywood

    Bunty Berman Presents Theater Row 410 W. 42nd Street New York, N.Y.Business is grim for Bunty Berman Productions in Bombay. His latest 1950s Bollywood film was a colossal flop, nine of his other movies cannot be completed because he is nearly bankrupt, his longtime star is getting old and overweight and the critics are ready to bury him.Does Bunty, a huge figure in Indian cinema, give up? No. Singing and dancing, he and his Bollywood friends assure all that they will, as their song goes, “make a movie” and win back the hearts in Indian filmgoers.Bunty Berman Presents is that story. The new play by British Pakistani writer Ayub Khan Din, author of Rafta, Rafta, starts off slowly, but after half an hour or so becomes a charming musical that not only pleases the audience, but gives them lot of history about Indian cinema, which has grown in America in the last decade or so.

  • Originally published 05/05/2013

    Who are You Calling Nancy Boy?

    The ‘nance,’ or Nancy Boy, was a gay burlesque character from the 1930s who brought guffaws and belly laughs as he pranced about the stage, creating campy scenes and sketches of gay life. He put on an outrageous show and audiences loved him. In the late 1930s, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, fearful of how the lurid burlesque shows would make his city look in the upcoming World’s Fair of 1939, cracked down on the houses.Part of LaGuardia’s anger was aimed at the Nance, whom critics said created audiences of lusty gay men having sex in the dark balconies of the burlesque emporiums. It was an outrage, the Mayor said, and police began swooping down on burlesque shows, closing many and forcing others to drop the nance act or greatly curb it.The Nance, that just opened in New York, is the very funny, deeply emotional, and winning, story about that crackdown.

  • Originally published 05/03/2013

    A Loving Trip Back to a Different America

    The Trip to Bountiful Stephen Sondheim Theater 146 W. 43rd Street New York, N.Y.How many of us would like to take a trip to our own historic Bountiful, the town where we grew up and raised our children, but a town that has, over the years, receded far into our memory?That’s what aging Carrie Watts wants to do in Horton Foote’s sixty-year-old story about 1947 Texas, The Trip to Bountiful, a charming, splendid play about a woman in one era in Texas history returning to another.Carrie, a delightful old woman, lives with her last child, middle-aged Ludie, and his pushy wife, Jessie Mae, in a cramped two-room apartment in Houston. She yearns to return to the town near the Gulf of Mexico where she grew up, Bountiful, a place she has not seen in more than twenty years. She just wants to go back for a visit and tour the streets that she loved as a child and young woman.

  • Originally published 04/18/2013

    Old Jews Telling Jokes

    Old Jews Telling JokesWestside Theater 407 W. 43rd Street New York, N.Y.For generations, the Borscht Belt was the capital of humor in the United States. The Borscht Belt was the chain of resort hotels in New York State’s Catskill Mountains, just a ninety-minute drive from New York City. It was its own ocomic nation in the 1940s and ‘50s.Many of the top comedians performing there -- not to mention most of the audience -- were Jewish (hence the name, as most New York Jews came from eastern Europe). The highlight of these comic routines were well plotted and perfectly timed stories about Jewish, and urban, life in America.They were hysterical.Now the whole country gets a chance to hear the old stories that rattled the funny bones of Americans for generation in Old Jews Telling Jokes, an hilarious historic review of the old stories that just opened at New York’s Westside Theater. It is one of the funniest shows to debut in New York in decades.

  • Originally published 04/08/2013

    Paying Tribute to the Master of Suspense

    Radiotheatre: The Alfred Hitchcock FestivalUnder St. Marks Theater94 St. Marks PlaceNew York, N.Y.The Under St. Marks Theater is really under St. Marks, laying beyond a narrow door, down a dozen or more old stone steps through a dark tunnel -- a very small, very dark, and very foreboding theater. It is, in short, a perfect place for the new Alfred Hitchcock Theater Festival, which features radio plays based on Hitchcock film classics such as Rebecca, Strangers on a Train, Suspicion and 39 Steps.

  • Originally published 03/29/2013

    A Murky Look Back at the 1969 Stonewall Riots and Gay History

    Hit the Wall Barrow Street Theater 27 Barrow Street New York, N.Y.On the hot, humid evening of June 27, 1969, undercover police at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City's Greenwich Village, alerted their superiors that it was ripe for a raid. Hours later, eight police officers arrived and plunged into the crowd of some two hundred men and women in the bar. The paddy wagons arrived late and those charged stood outside on the hot street. The revelers who had not been arrested came back to see what was going on as the tide of people grew. Neighbors and patrons at other bars, seeing the angry crowd, walked out on to the street, too, and joined it. Shouts and threats were yelled, the people spilled into the busy street and traffic was jammed for blocks. When the police vans finally did arrive, a full scale riot broke out. Gay men threw empty garbage cans at the cops and the police responded by clubbing dozens. Blood flowed. The riots over the Stonewall raid continued for several days. They were highly publicized and the event was said to be one of the places where the American gay rights movement started.

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    The 1905 "Bloody Sunday" Showdown in Russia

    NevaNew York Public Theater425 Lafayette StreetNew York, N.Y.If you can sit through the dreadfully dull and dreary first thirty minutes of Neva, Chilean writer Guillermo Calderon’s drama about the January 22, 1905 massacre that later brought about the 1905 revolution in Russia, you will see a pretty good play.The start of the short play, which opened last week, finds two actors in St. Petersburg greeting their new acting company colleague, Olga Knipper, the widow of recently buried Russian writing great Anton Chekhov. She has come to the jewel of Russia to re-start her acting career. The trio talks about the work they are doing and it is casually mentioned that the tsar’s troops have shot down several thousand street protestors, killing about a thousand of them, in another part of town. No one pays much attention and the play rehearsal drones on, endlessly. There does not seem to be any point to it beyond reminding people that Chekhov’s wife had talent, too.

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Breakfast at Tiffany’s -- Send It Back

    Breakfast at Tiffany’sCort Theater138 W. 48th StreetNew York, N.Y.Emilia Clarke as Holly Golightly.Anyone sitting in the Cort Theater in New York waiting for Breakfast at Tiffany’s to begin enjoys a wonderful montage of paintings and photographs of the city during World War II to remind you that the play is set in 1943. After ten or fifteen minutes of this luscious buildup, you are ready for a memorable play.You don’t get one, though. You should send Breakfast at Tiffany’s back to the kitchen and try another restaurant.The stage version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, adapted for the theater by Richard Greenberg and based on the incredibly successful 1961 movie starring Audrey Hepburn, has lost its luster. The executives at Tiffany’s should ask that they rename the play Lunch at Cartier’s

  • Originally published 03/04/2013

    Two Chinese on a Mountain...

    The Dance and the Railroad Pershing Square Signature Theater 480 W. 42nd Street New York, N.Y.Photo Credit: Signatory Theater. The play The Dance and the Railroad could have been a landmark drama about the role of the Chinese in the historic construction of the Transcontinental Railroad that connected the entire country by rail in 1869, but something went wrong. David Hwang’s play debuted in 1981 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Price and has been produced hundreds of times since then. Now, thirty-two years later, it has lost whatever punch it had when it opened. The drama is the story of two Chinese workers on the railroad who are killing time on top of a mountain, pretending they are members of a Chinese opera troupe. All of the Chinese laborers are on strike to protest unacceptable conditions on the railroad, from long hours to low pay. The railroad, and strike, are hardly mentioned during the entire length of the play. Towards the finale, there is some discussion about the strike -- management wins -- and the two men now have to return to work.

  • Originally published 02/25/2013

    Is a House a Home in the Segregated 1950s?

    Luck of the Irish Claire Tow Theater/Lincoln Center 150 West 65th Street New York, N.Y.In the middle of the nineteenth century, Boston was the capital of the anti-slavery movement. The capital of Massachusetts was the home of several well-known abolitionist newspapers; the state was led politically by anti-slavery champions such as Senator Charles Sumner and Governor John Andrew, and the 54th Massachusetts -- the first African American regiment in the Union Army -- was mustered near the city in 1863.In the middle of the twentieth century, though, Boston was a hotbed of racism. The Boston Red Sox was one of the last teams to be integrated (Pumpsie Green in 1959) and housing in the Boston area was still segregated. The New England city had actually made enormous backward strides over the prior century.This is the backdrop for Luck of the Irish, a powerful drama about how a white couple “fronted” for a black couple so they could buy a house in the fictional Boston suburb of Billington. It was a practice known as “ghost buying” and widely used all over the country at the time.

  • Originally published 02/25/2013

    Dr. Zhivago Makes an Angry House Call

    Lightning from Heaven Workshop Theater Company 312 W. 36th Street New York, N.Y.Scott C. Sickles’s new play Lightning from Heaven, now on stage at the Workshop Theatre Company in New York City, explores the question that millions of readers and viewers of the book and movie Dr. Zhivago have been asking for decades– was book’s heroine Lara based on someone in Zhivago author Boris Pasternak’s life? Sickles claims in his play that not only was Lara based on Pasternak’s translator, but she was his mistress for fourteen years. Their relationship, the play insists, is the relationship in the book and movie, set against the backdrop of the Russian history from 1905 to 1960.

  • Originally published 02/15/2013

    A Mediocre Evening with Sir Isaac Newton

    Isaac’s Eye Ensemble Studio Theater 549 W. 52nd Street New York, N.Y.Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in plays about historical inventors actually told you what was accurate and what was invented? Well, in Isaac’s Eye, a play about philosopher/mathematician Isaac Newton that just opened in New York, they do. A narrator comes out and tells you what is fact and what is fiction and true parts of the plot are written on the blackboards on the walls of the theater. So now you can sit back and enjoy a play about the great man who invented Calculus and figured out motion and gravity, right?No. Isaac’s Eye is a tedious play that tells very little about history. It's ostensibly set in 1665, but all the characters dress and talk as if it took place last Thursday. The single-set story takes place in what looks like a laboratory or classroom, plus lots of chalk to write on the walls.

  • Originally published 02/08/2013

    Let's Put a Smile on that Face

    The Man Who Laughs Urban Stages 259 W. 30th Street New York, N.Y.Walk into Urban Stages, a small theater in New York City, and a carnival vendor hands you a free bag of popcorn for the show. For half an hour you're entertained by a singer and pianist at the front of a stage designed to look like a Golden Age movie theater. Another pianist, this one in a suit, then comes out, bows, and starts to play the background music to The Man Who Laughs, a 1928 masterpiece of German Expressionism starring Conrad Veidt, based on Victor Hugo’s 1869 novel. Thus begins the stage adaptation of The Man Who Laughs, not It is very unusual to watch a play designed as a silent film, with no dialogue and the only sound the tingling keys of the piano.The Stolen Chair Theater Company is famous for unusual plays, and The Man Who Laughs, which opened last week, is certainly in that tradition. If you love silent movies, you'll love The Man Who Laughs.

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