Holiday Gifts for Theater Lovers 2015

Theater is “ephemeral,” says Maggie Smith – “every performance is like a ghost; it’s there and then it’s gone” – but a theater lover is for life. This helps explain my fourth annual Broadway gift guide, with information on theater tickets, theater subscriptions, play scripts, cast recordings and new and cherished books about the theater, as well as souvenirs and knick-knacks intended as tangible reminders of an evanescent experience.


Gift cards:  Telecharge gift cards  and TKTS gift certificates allow the theatergoers on your holiday list to pick their own show to go to (or several shows – depending on how much money you put on the card.)

Some suggest it’s better to give a gift card from Visa or Mastercard,because the theater-specific gift cards charge fees for each show.

If you know what specific show your theater lover would love, you can buy tickets for them yourself directly from their websites or from the box office.

Some popular Broadway favorites, most of which I also list on my post, Broadway’s longest-running shows and biggest hits;


The Eugene O’Neill Theater
Opened: March 24, 2011
Director: Jason Moore and Trey Parker
Twitter feed: @BookofMormonBWY
This musical by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (book), the creators of South Park, and Robert Lopez, one of the composer-lyricists for “Avenue Q” (music and lyrics) is about both the founder of the Church of Latter-Day Saints and modern disciples. It is outrageous, irreverent in one way, but also deeply reverent to (even while parodying) the best traditions of the Broadway musical.

My review of The Book of Mormon: Ridiculing Religion, Worshiping The Great White Way


August Wilson Theater (245 West 52nd Street)
Opened: November 6, 2006
Twitter: @JerseyBoysInfo
The story of the 1950′s-60′s singing group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, whose hits include “December 1963 [Oh, What A Night]” (my favorite) as well as “Sherry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” etc.
Although the music is better known than the musicians, and yes there are almost three dozen songs in the show, the story of the group is better than most of those ‘Behind The Music’ documentaries.

Minskoff Theater (200 West 45th Street)
Opened: November 13, 1997
Twitter: @TheLionKing
Based on the 1994 Disney animated film about the coming-of-age of a young lion in the African jungle, this musical offers African-inflected music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice and the visual magic of Julie Taymor. Taymor is the director, a composer and lyricist for some of the songs. But above all, she is the designer of the costumes, masks, and puppets — and it is these visuals that make this show a good first theatrical experience.

Shubert Theater, 225 West 44th Street,
Opened: April 11, 2013
The quirky musical, about a neglected little girl with extraordinary powers, is based on a cartoonishly dark, oddball 1988 novel aimed at children by Roald Dahl. There is much to like in what was unquestionably one of the best new musicals of last season on Broadway (although it was neglected at Tony time.) “Matilda” offers dazzling stagecraft overseen by director Matthew Warchus,  a faithful and intelligent book by David Kelly, and Tim Minchin’s clever lyrics. The production also, however, sometimes feels in need of a translator.

Majestic Theater (247 West 44th Street)
Opened: January 26, 1988
Twitter: @TheOperaGhosts
The Phantom of the Opera, based on a 1911 French novel by Gaston Leroux, is about a disfigured genius named Erik who lives in the catacombs of the Paris Opera House and falls in love with Christine, an aspiring singer whom he helps…until an old flame of Christine’s named Raoul steps back into the picture.
However, the story in the musical, written and composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber — with more than its share of 1980′s heavy power ballads — is starting to take second place to the story of the musical, which is the longest-running Broadway musical of all time, and probably the most profitable.

Gershwin Theater (222 West 51st Street)
Opened: October 30, 2003
Twitter: @WICKED_Musical
The musical tells the story of “The Wizard of Oz” from the witches’ perspective, more specifically from the Wicked Witch of the West, who was not, as a child, wicked at all, but just green-tinted, taunted, and misunderstood. There is so much to like about this musical, the clever twists on the familiar tale, the spectacular set, and music that is a lot more appealing in context (such as the song “Defying Gravity”) that I will forgive the contortions necessary to tack on a happy ending.


Ethel Barrymore Theater

Opened: Oct 05, 2014

Twitter: @CuriousBroadway

Like the unusual character at its center, ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time,’ a stage adaptation of a beloved book, overcomes a couple of daunting challenges to become…extraordinary…Marianne Elliott, the British director who last brought to Broadway the spectacular National Theatre production of ‘War Horse,’ works her magic again.

Here are some shows I’ve especially enjoyed that  have opened on Broadway in 2015:


When Hamilton opened Off-Broadway in February, I called it groundbreaking and breathtaking – and I was trying not to gush…Analyzing the importance of ‘Hamilton’ misses the main takeaway from the musical: It’s thrilling to watch. It seems always in motion, thanks to a creative team including director Thomas Kail, and especially choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who keeps the sexy ensemble very busy. They help enhance what are some terrific performances.

Fun Home

Fun Home’ is, yes, a musical about a lesbian cartoonist whose closeted father killed himself, but it is also about how we try to figure out the puzzle of our parents; about how we reassemble our childhood; about memory itself. It remains the inventive, entertaining, in places exhilarating, and almost inexpressibly heartbreaking show I saw Off-Broadway at the Public Theater a couple of years ago. And it is now one of those rare Off-Broadway musicals that actually improves when it transfers

Hand to God

“Robert Askin’s funny, filthy, violent and sensitive play is not a play for children. But it is a show for adults, with hints of psychological insights beneath the hysterical exterior…The triumph of “Hand to God” on Broadway is also a victory for Off-Off Broadway, where the show began, and it retains a quirky, raw, uncompromising quality more characteristic of its origins than its destination  Please note two things; Bob Saget is now in the cast. The last Broadway performance is January 3, 2016.

Spring Awakening

By cleverly pairing deaf actors who are signing with hearing actors who are singing, Deaf West has made the show the most accessible on Broadway, but also forged it into something theatrically exceptional…That such a show should be so joyful and so beautiful — from the evocative lighting to the hand ballet of sign language by the entire cast — is itself a sign: Deaf West has done it right. This show is scheduled to run only through January 24, 2016.

An American in Paris

Why does “An American in Paris” feel so fresh? First-time Broadway director Christopher Wheeldon has turned it into a modern ballet…it’s mesmerizing, unlike anything I’ve witnessed on Broadway before…While this is what makes An American in Paris special, it’s not the whole show. There are also traditional razzmatazz song-and-dance routines. There are scenes full of dialogue. There’s a plot. Some of playwright Craig Lucas’s choices are intriguing (some aren’t.)

The King and I

From the very first moments of Lincoln Center’s ravishing ‘The King and I,’ it feels like a privilege just to be sitting in the audience. Each scene flows seamlessly, and splendidly, into the next, allowing for the breathtaking spectacle this musical deserves…

There are many superior shows Off-Broadway, although their generally shorter runs can be problematic when looking for a gift. Don’t forget the shows that have not yet opened, although let’s hope that your theater lover is adventurous enough to avoid blaming you for any disappointment.

Broadway Preview Guide Fall 2015

Off-Broadway Preview Guide Fall 2015

The best thing about tickets is that this is a gift that gives pleasure twice – at the time you give it, and then when the theater lover actually goes to the show, which can be many months in the future.


Many theaters – the non-profit ones — offer subscriptions or memberships, which can be a wonderful gift that lasts an entire season…or a terrible burden for the increasing number of theatergoers who are commitment-phobic. (I’ve written a whole article about the waning popularity of theater subscriptions.)

Still, this can be the perfect gift for the right recipient if you pick the right theater, some of whom offer more flexible alternatives to subscriptions, such as flex passes and memberships.

My favorite is Playwrights Horizons

Playwrights Horizons logo

Here are others listed alphabetically. (I’ve had a membership/subscription to each one of these at one time or another. ) One of the problems you will see when you click on the links is that the subscriptions to some of these theaters this season are already sold out. (You might be able to purchase memberships for next season.)

The Brooklyn Academy of Music, which makes it easy to buy a purchase of gift membership.

Classic Stage Company

Lincoln Center Theater

MCC Theater

New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater

Roundabout Theater Company

Signature Theater Company

Vineyard Theater



There are some wonderful evergreen, expensive gift ideas. My favorite:

August Wilson box set

August Wilson’s complete 10-play Century Cycle, which includes such gems as “The Piano Lesson,” “Fences,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” – one play for each decade of the twentieth century, which together offer a compelling look at African-American life through the eye and ear of one of the nation’s greatest dramatists.


Stephen Sondheim’s two-volume collection of his lyrics, Finishing The Hat and Look, I Made A Hat, a collection of lyrics , anecdotes, fascinating scholarly notes, and strong opinions from the composer and/or lyricist of such seminal musical theater as “West Side Story,” “Gypsy,” “Company,” “Sweeney Todd,” “A Little Night Music,” “Assassins.”

The downside, besides the expense, is that anybody who would die to get these as gifts probably already owns them.

A less expensive and less sexy alternative are such perennial reference books as “Broadway Musicals Show by Show” by Stanley Green, now in its eighth edition.

Some of the big theater books this year:

ArthurMillerplays boxed set

The three-volume set of Arthur Miller’s plays — 42 in all — from the Library of America, especially appropriate because this year marks the centennial of his birth.



This beautiful book offers many of the movie and theater illustrations by the best-known Al Hirschfeld, who lived to 99 and whose name is up in lights on Broadway (a Broadway theater is named after him.)

I reviewed five books about Broadway earlier this year that you might want to take a look at. My two favorite were







DramaBookshoplogoMy suggestion if you wish to select as a gift a script or a theater or entertainment book is to check out The Drama Book Shop, at 250 West 40th Street, which has generally friendly, knowledgeable staff, and is one of my favorite hang-outs in the theater district (I should point out that I don’t drink.) Its hours are from Monday—Saturday,11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Thursdays until 8:00 p.m. They also have a website from which you can order.
SamuelFrenchlogoAnother excellent place for scripts is Samuel French, the “definitive” publisher of plays and musicals in English – mostly in relatively inexpensive “acting editions.” Also now available are “e-plays” and cast recordings. You can visit at 45 West 25th Street, but it’s not a place to hang out. Their redesigned website has some cool features: Click on “Now Playing” and you will get to a map showing the location of current local productions of the plays it has published.

Applause theatre books logo

Applause Theatre and Cinema Books closed their bookstore on the Upper West Side, alas, but remains a publisher of quality theatrical books, which you can order online.

The online bookstore of Theatre Communications Group offers some wonderful plays it publishes.

For what it’s worth: the top ten best-selling TCG books for October 2015

Bookstores in Theaters: Some of my favorite theaters also have books for sale, mostly scripts of the plays they have produced. These include both Signature and Playwrights Horizons , as well as Soho Rep


TheWizlivesoundtrackBroadway Records offers the Broadway cast recording of Matilda, Side Show, and this year The Wiz Live (the NBC broadcast), as well as wonderful live performances of such Broadway stars as Patti LuPone, Aaron Tveit, Norbert Leo Butz and Laura Benanti at 54 Below.

(A night at 54 Below itself, “Broadway’s supper club,” would make a nice present.)

FunHomCDcoverPS Classics —  Fun Home, Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill starring Audra McDonald, On The Town, On The Twentieth Century with Kristin Chenoweth,  and a huge catalogue of Sondheim shows.


BridgesofMadisonCountySh-K-Boom/Ghostlight — Their releases run the gamut, Aladdin, Beautiful: The Carol King Musical, Bridges of Madison County, Daddy Long Legs, First Daughter Suite, Fortress of Solitude, Something Rotten, The Last Five Years (available as original cast album, 2013 Off-Broadway cast album, and movie soundtrack)

AnAmericaninParisalbumMasterworks Broadway, a division of Sony Classics, offer Kinky Boots, as well as The King and I with Yul Brynner, and the 1949 recording of Kiss Me Kate, and the original 1992 recording of Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, and lots of albums that don’t begin with the letter K, including the A-list album An American in Paris.

For an extravagant gift, they sell Broadway in a Box – The Essential Broadway Musicals Collection — 25 (!) CDs of original cast recordings, from Annie to West Side Story.

Theater-Hamilton Cast Album

Atlantic Records, not normally in the original cast album business, is the company that put out the best-selling  Hamilton album — and devotes a page to Hamilton allowing you to listen to the music on various formats, and download the lyrics.


— posters, CDs, t-shirts and knick-knacks (magnets, mugs, keychains, etc)

Each Broadway show offers a range of merchandise that you can buy at the theater itself and in gift shops in the theater district, and online at each show’s website, as well as on a variety of sites, for example at the store.

A good place to purchase some of these is Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which has an online store using the logos and/or  program covers from the best-known Broadway shows for everything from umbrellas and clocks  to iPhone covers and shower curtains to Christmas ornaments. Proceeds from their products help the needy.



One gift that BC/EFA is offering for sale this year is a collection of 14-cd cast recordings from the 2014-2015 Broadway musical season, including An American in Paris, Doctor Zhivago, Finding Neverland, Fun Home, Gigi, Honeymoon in Vegas, It Shoulda Been You, The King and I, The Last Ship, On the Town, On the Twentieth Century, Side Show, Something Rotten! and The Visit.

I may actually spring for the Broadway 2016 calendar (I didn’t last year), even though only a third of the shows whose posters they feature are currently running, and most of the others are not what I consider classics.

But musicals aren’t only on Broadway. There’s a 2016 movie musical calendar:


And why limit to American musicals, screen or stage? The Royal Shakespeare Company is selling a cool-looking calendar this year



They also offer a set of “insult badges” taken directly from the works of William Shakespeare.

insult badges

(This is exactly the sort of gewgaws you can find at the Drama Book Shop)

The full quote from King Lear is actually :Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood.” But I suppose that’s too long for a button.


Theater ticket album

Playbill binder, to put your programs in. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually get one of these.

Nora Review: Ingmar Bergman’s Version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House

Nora 1 Jean Lichty and Todd GearhartWhat would make a woman leave her husband and three small children?

The reason that Nora gives in “A Doll’s House” shocked audiences when Ibsen wrote his play in 1879, and the final scene still rivets in an adaptation by famed Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman entitled “Nora,” currently in a competent if only intermittently engrossing production directed by Austin Pendleton at the Cherry Lane:

“You have responsibilities toward your husband and your children, haven’t you?” Torvald Helmer tells his wife.

“I have other responsibilities that are equally important,” Nora replies.

“No, you don’t. What responsibilities might they be?”

“Responsibilities toward myself.”

A woman leaving her husband these days is unremarkable, but a mother abandoning her children still gets our attention. This is one reason why some may question an adaptation that eliminates all of Nora’s children, as well as all the servants, including Nora’s childhood nursemaid Anne, who gave up the care of her own child in order to tend to Nora’s. The omission of this scene, which highlights Nora’s sheltered upper class background and arguably her selfishness, alters the complexity of the drama.

On the other hand, Bergman’s intent in his 1981 adaptation was to streamline Ibsen’s play in order to get to its essence. “A Doll’s House” has 11 characters and, as presented in a production at BAM last year for example, ran nearly three hours (including intermission.) “Nora” has just five characters and, in the Cherry Lane production, lasts about half as long (without an intermission.)

This seems better suited to the casual contemporary theatergoer (even if it causes a few awkward transitions between scenes.) In addition, the English translation by Frederick J. Marker and Lise-Lone Marker, which has been used in productions of “Nora” around the country for nearly two decades, is the best thing about the adaptation. No longer are we subjected to Torvald’s overbearing endearments (sample “A Doll’s House” translation: “Is that my little lark twittering out there?  Is it my little squirrel bustling about?”) We get the idea of his patronizing attitude just as clearly but more subtly and credibly. (There’s only one weird lapse, when Nora tells her friends she’d like to tell her husband to “Kiss my arse.”)

Of course, streamlining the cast puts more pressure on the remaining performers. All are fine in this production; none are consistently thrilling. One senses Pendleton’s decision to keep this a low-key affair, with a touch of elegance added by Theresa Squire’s period costumes, and Harry Feiner’s solid, naturalistic lighting and set.

It says something that, of the 15 scenes in “Nora,” only two stand out. One is the famous final confrontation between husband (Todd Gearhart) and wife (Jean Lichty), when Nora has come to a realization about the emptiness of their marriage. She has just seen how selfishly Torvald reacted to the revelation of a potential financial scandal that Nora inadvertently caused by her effort years earlier to raise money secretly in order to restore her husband back to health. But the second terrific scene is between two supposedly secondary characters – Nora’s friend Christine (Andrea Cirie) and Nora’s blackmailer Nils (Larry Bull.) Christine and Nils, it turns out, were in a relationship years before, one that Christine cruelly cut off because Nils was impoverished and Christine felt she needed to marry somebody with the means to support her widowed mother and her two brothers. Now a widow herself, Christine makes a double-edged proposal, which is mostly practical, and maybe a little mercenary, but hints at a buried hope of actual love between two characters who have become  less than savory. It’s a fascinating, complicated scene, well navigated by two pros, understated but full of feeling, that says as much as any of the better-known scenes between the two main characters about the status of women in society.

Click on any photograph by Carol Rosegg to see it enlarged



Cherry Lane Studio Theater
Adapted from Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”
By Ingmar Bergman

Translated by Frederick J. Marker and Lisa-Lone Marker
Directed by Austin Pendleton

Cast: Larry Bull, Andrea Cirie, Todd Gearhart, Jean Lichty, George Morfogen

Harry Feiner, lighting and set designer
Theresa Squire, costume designer
Ryan Rumery, sound designer
Patricia Fletcher, dialect coach
Shelley Senter, movement consultant

Kelly Ice, Production Stage Manager

Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission

Tickets: $46-$66

Nora is scheduled to run until December 12, 2015

Week in NY Theater: Motown, Miss Saigon Returning to Broadway. Holiday Treats. Where Musicals Come From.

During Thanksgiving week, there is plenty to do besides travel and talk to your relatives.

Performing Thanksgiving Day on Broadway: Chicago, Dames at Sea, Finding Neverland, On Your Feet, and The Phantom of the Opera.

The 89th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade - Season 89

Performing Thanksgiving Day at the Macy’s Parade: Fiddler on the Roof, Finding Neverland,The King & I, On Your Feet! and Something Rotten.


A whopping 28 Broadway shows have added a Friday matinee this week.

Check out the Thanksgiving week Broadway schedule

Week in New York Theater Views

In Once Upon A Mattress, Jackie Hoffman sings “Shy.” So I asked her – when has she been?

Theater Superstitions

The origins of “Break A Leg” and other common superstitions (it’s NOT what you think.)

Shakina Nayfack and the Musical Theatre Factory


Shakina Nayfack performing in Post Op, her solo show about her gender confirmation surgery

Shakina Nayfack performing in Post Op, her solo show about her gender confirmation surgery

The Musical Theatre Factory didn’t exist until March, 2014. Shakina Nayfack, who had moved to New York less than three years earlier, sent out an e-mail to 40 friends—“all making musicals, all strapped for cash”—suggesting they form what amounts to a mutual aid society. The aim was to centralize resources so they won’t feel so alone: “When you’re writing a musical, you’re on a boat in the sea trying to get people to swim to you,” adds Nayfack.
Until MTF’s existence, Nayfack didn’t completely exist either, as the director, choreographer, producer, and performance artist would surely tell you. Just a few months later, Nayfack traveled to Thailand to have what is popularly called a “sex change operation” (what the transgender community prefers to call “sex confirmation surgery”), a journey she has recounted in two solo shows with music,One Woman Show, and Post-Op.
“I’ve built myself as a woman while building the company,” says the woman who was born Jared Alan Nayfack. It’s no coincidence that the initials for Musical Theatre Factory—MTF—also stand for Male To Female.
/ Full story

Week in New York Theater Reviews



“Steve,” a play produced by The New Group at the Signature Center, begins and ends with its characters singing show tunes, which is a lovely and appropriate touch by director Cynthia Nixon, since three of the characters were once singing waiters together with dreams of Broadway. That’s how they all met, decades ago. Where they are now, as middle-aged gay men (and one lesbian), is the subject of Mark Gerrard’s play, equal parts funny and sad, and so steeped in musical theater references that one could be forgiven for suspecting that the title is in part in homage to Stephen Sondheim.

Kevis Hillocks and Arlene Chico-Lugo

Kevis Hillocks and Arlene Chico-Lugo

Mourning Sun

n “Mourning Sun,” a beautifully acted new play by Antu Yacob, two young teenagers in Ethiopia both love to sing and dance to Michael Jackson. The “sun” part of the title is clear from the get-go…The mourning part unfolds quickly: Biftu is 14 years old when she’s forced to wed the son of the wealthiest man in the community, who hits her in her head with a rock in order to consummate their marriage


Night Is A Room

The acting starts out so fine and nuanced that one feels excited and even comforted by the promise of an assured theatrical journey…we soon learn what it’s about: Liana has tracked down Dore because Dore is the mother of Liana’s husband Marcus – an unwed mother at age 15 who was forced to give up her child to adoption. Liana wants to surprise Marcus for his 40th birthday by having him meet his birth mother….Naomi Wallace devotes the first hour of her play to the set-up, and then the shock, letting the audience absorb what’s happened in a long, well-done dramatic scene. But after that, the playwright doesn’t seem to know where to go. The characters’ reactions are one-note; the remaining plot is uninteresting and pointlessly prolonged

Week in New York Theater News

Dames at Sea 10 John Bolton, Cary Tedder, Eloise Kropp, Mara Davi, Danny Gardner in DAMES AT SEA photo by Jeremy Daniel, 2015
Dames at Sea will close January 3, after 23 previews and 85 performances.

Michael Jackson (Raymond Luke Jr.) and the Jackson 5

Michael Jackson (Raymond Luke Jr.) and the Jackson 5

Motown the musical will return to Broadway starting July 2016 for an 18-week run.


The London production of Miss Saigon will come to Broadway in 2017, says Cameron Mackintosh, 40-person + helicopter intact.


After Allegiance, Lea Salonga will perform in Fun Home in the Philippines (her home country), portraying the mom.

After protests by playwrights & designers, @nytimestheater reportedly has agreed to restore full credits in its reviews and listings

A stage musical of movie Holiday Inn, with about 20 Irving Berlin songs (such Heat Wave), will open October 13 2016 at Roundabout’s Studio 54.


Motherstruck, Stacey ann Chin’s solo show directed by Cynthia Nixon that had been canceled, is back on track, set to begin at Culture Project December 4.

Clive Barnes Theater Award nominees:

Jack DiFalco, of Mercury Fur

Sandy Mae Frank and Katie Boeck of Spring Awakening

Austin P. McKenzie of Spring Awakening,

Dave Thomas Brown of The Legend Of Georgia McBride


In praise of playwright Caryl Churchill

Taylor Mac

Taylor Mac

For me, performance needs to be rigorous. I like the audience to see that I have worked for them. I like them to see that someone actually cared. That I gave them my time and energy –  Q and A with Taylor Mac, author of Hir

Bullying in the arts is more prevalent than in the armed forces in UK, writes @lyngardner. (True in US too?)

How Julian Fellowes went from Downton Abbey to School of Rock  “a nice change from ladies maids and footmen.”




George Takei spoofing Adele

Where Broadway gets its ideas


Night Is A Room Review: Mother and Son Meet For The First Time

Ann Dowd, Dagmara Dominczyk and Ben Heck in Night Is A Room

Ann Dowd, Dagmara Dominczyk and Ben Heck in Night Is A Room

“Night is a Room” is the last of Naomi Wallace’s plays in the Signature season devoted to her work, and it is the most gratifying– but only for the first half.

In place of her other plays’ grim and arty lyricism about long-ago historical events (“The Liquid Plain,” “And I and Silence”), “Night is a Room” is set in England in the present day and begins with two plain-speaking women in a backyard. The acting starts out so fine and nuanced that one feels excited and even comforted by the promise of an assured theatrical journey.

Liana (Dagmara Dominczyk) is well dressed and garrulous while Dore (the amazing Ann Dowd) is older, dowdy and shy. There is an awkwardness between the two women (and humor in that awkwardness), and we soon learn what it’s about: Liana has tracked down Dore because Dore is the mother of Liana’s husband Marcus – an unwed mother at age 15 who was forced to give up her child to adoption. Liana wants to surprise Marcus (Ben Heck) for his 40th birthday by having him meet his birth mother.

“It’s not a good idea,” Dore says, avoiding eye contact.  But Liana eventually persuades her to meet her son.

It turns out to be a terrible idea, certainly for Liana.

Since “Night Is A Room” pivots on a shocking development that turns the characters’ world upside down, it is difficult to discuss the play without revealing what many would consider a spoiler.

At the risk of being coy, let’s just say that the plot is reminiscent in some ways of Edward Albee’s “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” in that a forbidden love is involved. But Albee’s play is as much about the complicated reaction of family and friends to the main character’s bestiality. Naomi Wallace, who has said that “Night is A Room” is based on a true story that somebody told her, devotes the first hour of her play to the set-up, and then the shock, letting the audience absorb what’s happened in a long, well-done dramatic scene. But after that, the playwright doesn’t seem to know where to go. The characters’ reactions are one-note; the remaining plot is uninteresting and pointlessly prolonged. We do see the characters transformed, but it is a physical transformation, representing impressive work by the actors (and the costume designer), but little more than that; there is little light cast on our social mores or the human condition.

Wallace’s strength is in her lyricism more than her storytelling; indeed, the lyricism in her plays arguably serves as a protective shield against a clear-eyed assessment of their structure. But there is little of her usual lyricism in “Night Is A Room.” Dore does say some poetic-like things about her dreams and about trees, but they come off as her personal oddness rather than as integral to the world that Wallace has created.

The title of the play comes from a line in a poem by William Carlos Williams entitled “Complaint.” Williams, who was a physician as well as a poet, writes about a cold, late-night house call to a sick woman, “perhaps laboring
to give birth to a tenth child…

Night is a room
darkened for lovers,
through the jalousies the sun
has sent one golden needle!
I pick the hair from her eyes
and watch her misery
with compassion.

How vivid, how moving, how dramatic — what a play that poem could make.

Click on any photograph by T. Charles Erickson to see it enlarged

Night Is A Room

At the Signature Center

Written by Naomi Wallace

Directed by Bill Rauch
Rachel Hauck (scenic design), Clint Ramos (costume design), Jen Schriever (lighting design), Leah Gelpe (sound design)
Cast: Dagmara Dominczyk, Ann Dowd, Ben Hecht

Running time: Two hours including one intermission.

Tickets: $25 until December 13; $35-$65 afterwards

Night Is A Room is scheduled to run through December 20, 2015


Broadway Thanksgiving Week Schedule 2015: What to See on Broadway

Below is the schedule for Broadway shows during Thanksgiving week.

The titles are linked to my reviews or other information, and a collection of photographs, about each show. (Those shows without links are in previews and have not yet opened — i.e. have not yet been reviewed.) The asterisks are next to the ten shows that are my personal favorites and particular recommendations. But tastes vary, as do budgets. Speaking of which, Off Broadway is open this week as well.

You’ll see there are five shows playing on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day itself: Chicago, Dames at Sea, Finding Neverland, On Your Feet, and The Phantom of the Opera. A whopping 28 Broadway shows have added a Friday matinee this week.

Crossed out dates means canceled performances this week.
Bold faced dates means added performances for this week
Italic dates means different than usual curtain time

The information, which comes from the Broadway League, is subject to change. Please check the show’s website or the theater box office where it’s playing.

Show Title


Mon. Nov. 23 Tues Nov. 24 Wed. Nov. 25 Thur. Nov. 26 Fri. Nov. 27 Sat.Nov 28 Sun. Nov. 29

(New Amsterdam)

DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm, 6:30pm


DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
*American in Paris, An


DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm,8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

(Stephen Sondheim)


DARK 7pm 2pm, 7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
*Book of Mormon, The

(Eugene O’Neill)

7pm 7pm 2pm, 7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 7pm


8pm 8pm DARK 8pm 2:30, 8pm 2:30pm, 8pm 2:30pm, 7pm
China Doll


DARK DARK DARK DARK 8pm 3pm, 8pm 3pm
Color Purple, The


8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm DARK
*Curious Incident


DARK 7pm 2pm, 7:30pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Dames at Sea

(Helen Hayes)

DARK 7pm 2pm, 7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Fiddler on the Roof


8pm 8pm 8pm DARK 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Finding Neverland


DARK 7:30pm 2pm, 7:30pm 7:30pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Fool For Love

(Samuel J. Friedman)

7pm 7pm 2pm, 7pm 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm
*Fun Home

(Circle in the Square)

DARK 7pm 2pm, 7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Gentleman’s Guide…

(Walter Kerr)

DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
*Gin Game, The


7pm 7pm 2pm 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm

(Richard Rodgers)

DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
*Hand to God


DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Illusionists, The: Witness the Impossible

(Neil Simon)

DARK 7pm 7pm 8pm 11am, 3pm, 8pm 11am, 3pm, 8pm 11am, 3pm
Jersey Boys

(August Wilson)

DARK 7pm 2pm, 7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
*King and I, The

(Vivan Beaumont – Lincoln Center)

DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
King Charles III

(Music Box)

7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Kinky Boots


DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm DARK 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Les Misérables


DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm, 7:30pm
*Lion King, The


DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm, 6:30
Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games


7:30pm 7:30pm 2pm, 7:30pm 7:30pm 2pm, 7:30pm 2pm, 7:30pm 3pm


7pm 7pm 2pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm, 6:30pm


DARK 7pm 2pm, 7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Old Times

(American Airlines)

7pm 7pm 2pm, 7pm 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm
On Your Feet!


DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Phantom of the Opera, The


8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm DARK
School of Rock

(Winter Garden)

8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Something Rotten!

(St. James)

8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
*Spring Awakening

(Brooks Atkinson)

7pm 7pm 2pm, 7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm, 7:30


DARK 7pm 2pm, 7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Thérèse Raquin

(Studio 54)

7pm 7pm 2pm, 7pm 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm
View from the Bridge, A


DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm


7pm 7pm 2pm, 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm


Jackie Hoffman on Singing and Being Shy

“I’ve always been SHY/ I confess that I’m SHY,” Jackie Hoffman sings as Princess Winnifred the Woebegone in the Transport Group’s revival of “Once Upon A Mattress.” But when has Hoffman herself ever been shy?

“That’s a great question,” she says in the video below, in which she attempts to answer, in-between rehearsing the song “Shy” by Mary Rodgers.

The revival of the musical runs from November 23, 2015 to January 3, 3016 at Abrons Arts Center, co-starring Lypsinka.


Alvin Ailey’s Dance Marking the Holocaust [Sponsored]

No Longer Silent still

To mark the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps Auschwitz and Buchenwald, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will present “No Longer Silent,” as part of its season at New York City Center in December.

Robert Battle, who has been the Ailey artistic director since July, 2011,  created “No Longer Silent” in 2007 for The Juilliard School (his alma mater) as part of a concert of scores by composers whose work the Nazis had banned. Battle’s choreography is set to the percussive score “Ogelala” by Erwin Schulhoff.

Schulhoff was born in 1894 in Prague, and by the age of 10 had already begun his conservatory training with the likes of Claude Debussy. A classical composer, he early on embraced jazz and the avant-garde.The Nazis declared his music “degenerate,” and after they invaded Czechoslovakia, Schulhoff was arrested and sent to the Wülzburg concentration camp, where he died in 1942 from tuberculosis.

“I didn’t try to make a dance about the Holocaust; I didn’t feel I could do that,” says Battle. Yet, he adds, “there was something about his spirit and the way he died that struck a chord with me in a personal way.”

The Ailey season at City Center will also feature “Awakening,”  the first world premiere of a work by Robert Battle since he became the third artistic director of the company.

Details of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater season at City Center, December 2, 2015 to January 3, 2016

Mourning Sun Review: Story of A Child Bride in Recovery

In “Mourning Sun,” a beautifully acted new play by Antu Yacob, two young teenagers in Ethiopia both love to sing and dance to Michael Jackson. The “sun” part of the title is clear from the get-go: Abdi, an orphan (Kevis Hillocks) is drawn to Biftu (Arlene Chico-Lugo), whose name means sun, and (although she won’t admit it), she welcomes his attentions. The mourning part unfolds quickly: Biftu is 14 years old when she’s forced to wed the son of the wealthiest man in the community, who hits her in her head with a rock in order to consummate their marriage. The rape and subsequent unsuccessful childbirth causes her permanent physical damage.
“Mourning Sun” is presented by Theater 167, a company whose mission is to present the myriad cultures of the world that converge in New York (specifically in Jackson Heights – the 167 is the number of languages reportedly spoken in that Queens neighborhood alone.) It is an “issue play” – dramatizing the increasing incidence of child marriage in Ethiopia (as in poor, rural communities around the world). It’s something of a medical drama, focusing on fistula, the condition that Biftu contracts. It’s a “foreign” play – it’s in three languages, including English. It’s an immigration play – Abdi is soon adopted by an American, and he eventually marries Biftu to rescue her and bring her to Harlem, where their adjustment is not pretty. It was also sometimes hard to follow completely, due both to language and leaps in the plotting.  But, thanks to the direction by Ari Laura Kreith and the often brave acting of the seven-member cast, the play is not easily summed up or dismissed. Kevis Hillocks in particular is a stand out, his bright smile and winning dance moves as a teenager visibly disappearing as he grows into a young adult immigrant trying to find his way out of bitterness and back to love and joy. “Mourning Sun” winds up satisfying in surprising ways.

Mourning Sun
A Theater 167 production at at the West End Theatre in the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew, 263 W. 86th St. NYC
Written by Antu Yacob
Directed by Ari Laura Kreith
Cast: Shamsuddin Abdul-Hamid, Arlene Chico-Lugo, Charles Everett, Fadoua Hanine, Kevis Hillocks, John P. Keller, Antu Yacob
Bo Frazier (Stage Manager), Jen Price Fick (Set Design), Matthew Fick (Lighting Design), and Jessa-Raye Court (Costume Design).
Running time: About two hours, including an intermission.
Tickets: $18
Mourning Sun is scheduled to run through December 6

Theatrical Superstitions: Sheen Center Exhibition

Yes, people have been telling actors to “break a leg” for hundreds of years, but not for the reason you may think, according to Rebekah Lazaridis in the video below. An actress since the age of 12 and a painter of stage sets, Lazaridis has created an art exhibition at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture exploring the most familiar theatrical superstitions — why you cannot whistle in a theater, or say the title of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” and what a ghost light is for, and why actors blame Thespis.

Entitled “Broken Legs” — she gets around to explaining that too — Lazaradis created all her art works using discarded theatrical scenery. “Each piece is painted in black and white on old tattered black velvet theater curtains (also known as ‘legs'”) — !! “They are then spliced (broken), skewed and reoriented, then stitched back together transforming into an entirely new image.”

Steve Review: Cynthia Nixon Directs Gay Middle-Aged Comedy

Steve Malcolm Gets, Jerry Dixon, Mario Cantone, Matt McGrath

“Steve,” a play produced by The New Group at the Signature Center, begins and ends with its characters singing show tunes, which is a lovely and appropriate touch by director Cynthia Nixon, since three of the characters were once singing waiters together with dreams of Broadway. That’s how they all met, decades ago. Where they are now, as middle-aged gay men (and one lesbian), is the subject of Mark Gerrard’s play, equal parts funny and sad, and so steeped in musical theater references that one could be forgiven for suspecting that the title is in part in homage to Stephen Sondheim. But only in part: Four of the characters are Steves.

Steven (Matt McGrath), who calls himself a “failed chorus boy,” is a stay-at-home dad to an (unseen) eight-year-old while his partner of 16 years, Stephen (Malcolm Gets) works as a lawyer. On Steven’s 47th birthday, the two celebrate at a restaurant with their oldest friends, Matt (Mario Cantone), who is in a couple with Brian (Jerry Dixon), and Carrie (Ashlie Atkinson.) However much we are meant to feel the warmth in this circle of friends, the playwright quickly introduces some chill. Carrie is dying; this, it seems clear, is why her long-time girlfriend moved out. And Steven has discovered that his Stephen has been naughty with (Matt’s) Brian – maybe just sexting, maybe more – which derails the relationship between the two Steves.

There are two more Steves – “Trainer Steve” (whom we only hear about) and Esteban (Francisco Pryor Garat) an Argentine dancer, who is the waiter for the soured birthday party, and, in something of a running gag, keeps on materializing in yet another part-time job he holds wherever the old friends congregate. Both of these Steves are in their 20’s, and offer something of a yardstick to measure how far the middle-aged characters have traveled – and how much they haven’t.

It’s not clear why there are so many Steves in “Steve” – maybe it’s a comment on the difficulty of maintaining your individual identity, or how similar people of a certain demographic can be, or perhaps it’s just whimsy. In any case, the playwright’s (and actors’) distinct characterizations manage to rescue each of the characters from this sea of Steves, even as they picture themselves in the aggregate. As Steven puts it, they are “four middle-aged men, and our occasional lady visitor, desperately interested in the slightest recognition that we’re still sexually desirable to the sexually desirable — or even to the almost-sexually desirable — secretly afraid that we’re not, but bravely clinging to the illusion — and each other — like a jaunty gay Raft of the Medusa.

Raft of the Medusa

Raft of the Medusa

“Steve” doesn’t blaze new ground; it can be seen as “Love! Valour! Compassion!: The Next Generation,” — the kind of play about gay love and friendship that Terrence McNally wrote 20 years ago, in the midst of AIDS and discrimination. Mark Gerrard makes no mention of either in “Steve,” which takes place in this current era of marriage equality that promises a more successful pursuit of happiness — at least theoretically.

The characters in “Steve” represent a narrow subset of knowing New Yorkers who mask their regrets and disappointments in the sophisticated banter they’ve absorbed from too many old movies, musicals and drawing room comedies – and wonder whether they should regret masking their regrets this way.

“Don’t you ever think it’s just noise?” Carrie asks Steven, “a giant waste of time that’s kept you and me from ever actually accomplishing anything?”

Still, the banter is entertaining, even when it’s a tad too good to be true-to-life:

“What kind of gay man has never had a three way?” Matt admonishes Steven.

“I’ve always had trouble multi-tasking,” Steven replies.

On the other hand, one of the best scenes in “Steve” is one in which Stephen is multitasking — talking on the phone (to both his mother and Steven’s mother) and simultaneously texting and sexting with Steven and Brian and yelling at both Carrie and Zack in the other room, a scene that employs Olivia Sebesky’s simple projections and David Van Tieghem’s sound design to hilarious effect.

In such scenes, “Steve” reflects a quote that Esteban cites from the book he’s reading by choreographer Twyla Tharp: “If a thing moves, it lives.” That’s one quote with which the middle-aged characters are unfamiliar, since it didn’t come from a musical.

“Steven’s not much of a reader,” Stephen apologizes.
“I read,” Steven protests.
“What do you read?” Carrie asks.
Stephen answers for Steven: “Playbills.”

Click on any photograph by Monique Carboni to see it enlarged.


The New Group at Signature Center

Written by Mark Gerrard; Directed by Cynthia Nixon

Scenic Design by Allen Moyer, Costume Design by Tom Broecker, Lighting Design by Eric Southern, Sound Design by David Van Tieghem, and Projection Design by Olivia Sebesky.  Music Coordinator is Seth Rudetsky.
Cast: Ashlie Atkinson, Mario Cantone, Jerry Dixon, Francisco Pryor Garat, Malcolm Gets and Matt McGrath
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $27 to $97. Rush tickets are $25.
“Steve” is scheduled to run through December 27

Update: “Steve” has been extended to January 3.


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