The Present with Cate Blanchett: Review, Pics

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh

About halfway through The Present, an adaptation of Chekhov’s first play, Cate Blanchett, as a Russian general’s widow celebrating her 40th birthday, shoots off a shotgun, dances atop a table, and pours vodka on her head. It is an attention-grabbing moment in Blanchett’s Broadway debut performance – and one of the show’s few unmitigated pleasures…

There are those who are fans of the two-time Oscar winner who will find her performance entertaining enough to obliterate any other concerns, or who have the patience and curiosity to appreciate the production’s complex texture and thought-provoking themes of loss, regret, paralysis, desire, loneliness, fear of change — who will feel good for having experienced Quality Theater.  And then there are the rest of us, who wish it were shorter.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.

Confucius: Review, Pics, Video

confucius-50

The strength of Confucius, a 90-minute dance piece featuring 60 performers from the China National Opera and Dance Drama Theater, is not found in its efforts to present Confucian philosophy and biography, nor even Chinese history and culture, none of which is especially illuminating. The show’s strength lies in its visual splendor and gymnastic choreography.

Making its American debut this week at Lincoln Center , the piece premiered in Beijing in 2013, conceived by Kong Dexin, its elegant 34-year-old director and choreographer. One could argue she was born to do this show. Ms. Kong is a direct descendant (a “77th generation descendant”) of Confucius (in Chinese known as Kong Zi, or Master Kong), the teacher and philosopher who lived 2,500 years ago.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Liu Haidong to see it enlarged.

 

Othello with David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig: Pics, Review

While the “Othello” at the New York Theatre Workshop can be uncomfortable and even annoying, it is impossible for me to dismiss Sam Gold’s often startlingly effective production, even when David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig’s ultimately thrilling performances are initially in danger of being upstaged by the lighting and the seats.

Craig, a British actor best known as the most blunt and muscular in the James Bond franchise of films, is a blunt and muscular Iago. David Oyewolo, a British-Nigerian actor best known for his portray of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the film Selma, is a staggeringly expressive Othello. Both actors, with long experience on the stage, are technically proficient — Oyewolo affects a slight African accent, for example, which seems a conscious choice to emphasize his outsider status. But there is a visceral connection here, with each other, and with the audience.

Full review at DC Theater Scene

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

In Transit on Broadway: Review, Pics, Video

“In Transit” is the first a cappella musical on Broadway, and the rich harmonies and rhythmic beatboxing of a cappella evangelist Deke Sharon’s arrangements reveal the human voice as the most flexible of musical instruments. Unfortunately, the freshness of the voice-only orchestra doesn’t completely compensate for the flat familiarity of much else in the musical…”In Transit” features 11 appealing and accomplished performers portraying some 40 subway-riding New Yorkers….Luckily, “In Transit” has several assets that help us try to put aside its bland stories.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.

Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway: Review, pics, video

“Dear Evan Hansen” has changed now that it’s on Broadway, in ways that make it an even more affecting musical. Ben Platt’s performance, impressive from the get-go, is even better. But what’s changed the most is the world outside the theater, turning the story of a lie that gets out of hand into something more realistic and unfortunately more relevant.

Click on any photograph by Matthew Murphy to see it enlarged.

The plot’s trajectory seemed fanciful to me half a year ago, before the subject of “viral fake news” itself went viral. It is also bracing to realize that I omitted an important and relevant matter with which the musical deals…how much Evan and his mother Heidi (Rachel Bay Jones) are struggling financially, and how resentful Heidi is..

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Sweet Charity with Sutton Foster: Review, pics, video

Leigh Silverman, the director of the 50th anniversary Off-Broadway revival of Sweet Charity starring Sutton Foster, recently spoke about art being “a tool for education, and revolution, and resistance.” But it’s also, she said, great for escape: “People staggered into Sweet Charity desperate for community..and to be lifted away from this reality” the weekend after the election.
How else but escapist to characterize the musical about a “dance hall hostess” named Charity Hope Valentine who is always looking for true love, but never finding it. Its book by Neil Simon, based on the screenplay “Nights of Cabiria” by Federico Fellini, is dated and improbable, with a series of comic set pieces that, in the New Group’s production at the Signature Center at least, only occasionally land. But its score by Cy Coleman holds up, especially the evergreen songs — the bluesy “Big Spender” and the brassy “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” The choreographer Joshua Bergasse (On The Town), the spot-on five-piece band, and the design team – such as Clint Ramos (Tony winner for Eclipsed) and Derek McLane (Tony winner for 33 Variations) – all work together to scale down this big Broadway musical appropriately to the intimacy of a theater with little more than 200 seats.
Best of all, the performances are terrific.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Monique Carboni to see it enlarged

 

Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway: Review, Pics, Videos

An opera with an unwieldy title based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace seemed an unlikely crowd-pleaser, but I was thrilled when I saw it Off-Broadway, first at Ars Nova in 2012, and again in a circus tent in 2013. When they announced a Broadway run, however, I wondered how they could possibly pull it off.

They’ve done it! Now installed in the wondrously transformed Imperial Theater on Broadway, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is extraordinary, the freshest, most inviting show on Broadway this season. Great Comet is especially awesome in its stagecraft, as well as in its music, and in its performances. The large, exciting cast includes nearly two dozen who are making their Broadway debuts, including Denee Benton and Josh Groban as the titular characters….Director Rachel Chavkin and set designer Mimi Lien in particular deserve kudos for staging on Broadway something very close to the kind of immersive theater that’s lately been intriguing theatergoers all over the world – everywhere but Broadway, until now.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photographs by Chad Batka or Jonathan Mandell to see them enlarged.

Dust and Ashes

Charming

Sonya Alone

The Prologue

Master Harold and the boys: Review, pics, video

Had I seen the Signature’s fine revival of Athol Fugard’s most popular play just a few days earlier, I might have appreciated it primarily as a well-wrought work of theater, relegating its depiction of the brutal effects of state-approved racism to a safely distant time and place. Now the play feels more like an urgent warning.

The 84-year-old playwright directs the Signature production himself, and he does it with a masterful attention to details.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

An Election Day Without Trump: Women of a Certain Age Review, Pics

The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family, a trilogy of plays by Richard Nelson presented in real time at the Public Theater, ends the way it began eight months ago – with the Gabriel family talking little about the election and nothing about Donald Trump. This time around, the omission is exasperating.

I left feeling that the promise and process in which the plays were put together wound up at best a gimmick. This is unfortunate, because, if it weren’t taking place (and being written) on Election Day, I could better appreciate this third play, Women of a Certain Age, as a well-acted, gentle and insightful look at a family facing many struggles, emotionally and financially.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

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The Front Page with Nathan Lane et al: Review, Pics

The best way to sum up the fourth Broadway revival of The Front Page, the 1928 play about Chicago newspapermen, is the way their ads do: Nathan Lane, John Slattery, John Goodman,Jefferson Mays, Holland Taylor….Robert Morse. The show’s appeal, in other words, rests largely in its star turns, which often feel like cameos…

Only one illustrious member of the large cast entirely escapes cameo status — Nathan Lane as Walter Burns, a scheming editor for whom no ploy is too low. Through the alchemy of his barking brilliance, Lane turns the entire third act into more or less a one-man show, everybody else transformed into his supporting players. But he doesn’t even appear on stage until the end of Act II.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene