Be More Chill: pics, video and review

To outsiders, “Be More Chill” is a hyper-energetic pop-rock musical opening tonight Off-Broadway, starring Will Roland (“Dear Evan Hansen”) as a high school student named Jeremy Heere who sees himself as a loser but then swallows a pill containing a supercomputer and becomes cool.
Jeremy’s journey is of course a sci-fi fantasy. But thanks to its fans, the odyssey of the musical itself is also fairly far out…You don’t have to be 15 to be thrilled by the best moments in the Off-Broadway production of Be More Chill, a musical about high school, presented by a terrifically talented cast, that is too quirky and clever to be dismissed as the standard high school musical bestiary. But it might help to be a teenage fan in order to enjoy all two and a half hours of Be More Chill…

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

New song added to the Off Broadway production:

Click on any photograph by Maria Baranova to see it enlarged


Mike Birbiglia’s The New One Review: Hating Kids, Having A Kid

When Mike Birbiglia announced that his fourth one-man show would be playing at the Cherry Lane, he wouldn’t say what it would be about; he simply called it “The New One.” (“I hate it when people tell me what anything is about or really any details at all,” he explained in a press release.)

How arrogant, I thought. Who does he think he is?
He’s someone who can sell out the entire run of a show at the Cherry Lane in a matter of hours.
Read more of this post

Twelfth Night Review: Shakespeare as a Popcorn Musical

I compared Shaina Taub’s musical adaptation of “Twelfth Night” to a party and to a variety show when the Public Theater presented it in Central Park over Labor Day weekend in 2016. The unusual production featured a cast of professional actors mixed with some 200 New Yorkers from community groups from all five boroughs, as part of what the theater calls its Public Works project.
The show was evidently pleasing enough to enough people that the Public has brought it back as one of the Delacorte’s two major summer offerings, running now through August 19th. Read more of this post

The House That Will Not Stand Review: Free women of color face female slavery in 1813 New Orleans

In “The House That Will Not Stand,” Marcus Gardley’s historically fascinating, lyrical and surprisingly funny play, nobody much cares for Beartrice Albans – not her three beautiful daughters, not her mad sister, not her slave, and certainly not her rival, Madame La Veuve, who accuses her of murder.

“You may be the wealthiest colored woman in New Orleans,” La Veuve says to Beartrice, “but you built this house on sand, lies and dead bodies.”

Beartrice’s slave Makeda tries to defend her: “I’d think I’d know if the Madame was a murderer,” Makeda says. “She may be crass, calculating, cunning and unkind, but the woman is still a Christian.”

Beartrice, a free woman of color, will need all her cunning in order to face what is about to befall the Albans household. Read more of this post

This Ain’t No Disco Review: Studio 54 Where are You?

For all its high-energy hedonism featuring handsome half-clad bodies, “This Ain’t No Disco,” the rock opera at the Atlantic Theater set in the New York City club scene of the 1970s, doesn’t elicit desire or delight or nostalgia so much as it does confusion.

The confusion starts with the title, which is a line taken from a 1979 Talking Heads song entitled “Life During Wartime,” about a post-apocalyptic landscape, that includes the verse:

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
This ain’t no Mudd Club, or C. B. G. B.,
I ain’t got time for that now

But “This Ain’t No Disco” mostly takes place in a disco, the notorious Studio 54, and one of its characters is named Steve Rubell, after the actual co-owner of Studio 54 (portrayed as a fun-loving, coke-snorting sleaze by Theo Stockman.)  A few scenes are set in the downtown Mudd Club, where the Mudd Clubbers sing “we party all night long.”So life for the characters in this sing-through musical IS a disco; it IS a party; they DO fool around; and that’s what they mostly spend their time doing – even while they dream of stardom.

Read more of this post

The Damned Review: The Nazi Rise, via Ivo Van Hove’s Lessons in Stagecraft

There are three major historical events in the early timeline of Nazi horrors that figure as personal turning points in the story of the corruption, perversion and destruction of the wealthy German industrialist family presented in “The Damned,” Ivo van Hove’s intense, extraordinary stage adaptation of Luchino Visconti’s 1969 film. Van Hove directs a remarkable cast from the 338-year-old Comédie-Français, who perform in French with English subtitles in the cavernous Wade Thompson Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory. But the three events from 1933 feel like varied lessons in stagecraft from the avant-garde Belgian director – stagecraft that is ferociously inventive, unrelenting, and unsurpassed.
Read more of this post

Smokey Joe’s Cafe Review: Flipping Over Elvis Songwriters Leiber and Stoller

Near the beginning of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller,” the new Off-Broadway revival of the long-running Broadway musical revue, performer Jelani Remy does a double back flip while singing the Elvis hit, “Jailhouse Rock.” It is the most memorable example in the show of what we can call The Bergasse Workout, which I’m naming after the production’s inventive and obviously demanding director/choreographer Joshua Bergasse, celebrated for his splashy moves in the 2014 Broadway revival of “On The Town,” the 2016 Off-Broadway revival of “Sweet Charity,” and his Emmy-winning choreography for the TV show “Smash.”
The “Smokey Joe’s” at Stage 42 differs only slightly from the original Broadway show, which opened at the Virginia in 1995 and ran for more than 2,000 performances, almost five years. Five men and four women deliver 40 musical numbers in 90 minutes – no time for idle chat…or any dialogue whatsoever. Read more of this post

Fire in Dreamland Review. Three Coney Island Disasters: Fire in 1911, Flood in 2013, and Love.

During the 1911 fire that burned Coney Island’s Dreamland amusement park to the ground, one of the animal attractions,  a black lion, with his hind quarters ablaze, scrambled up the staircase to the top of the roller coaster, which made him “a perfect flaming target against the clear night sky” for the mob shooting at him from below.

Kate (Rebecca Naomi Jones) tells us this vivid story about halfway through “Fire in Dreamland,” a three-character play by Rinne Groff that’s about three disasters in Coney Island.. The play takes place in Coney Island in 2013, the year after the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy. The third disaster is Kate’s love life.
Read more of this post

A Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish Review: As directed by Joel Grey, A shtik naches

Those who doubted that a Yiddish-language production of “A Fiddler on the Roof,” directed by Joel Grey,  would turn out to be a great joy (“a shtik naches) might see Jackie Hoffman’s performance as a revelation.

Hoffman, a resident funny lady on Broadway (Hairspray, Xanadu, The Addams Family, On The Town and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as well as TV and Twitter,  portrays Yente, the yente(gossip) and shadkhnte (matchmaker) in the fictitious shtetl (town) of Anatevke. In the opening number of the show, “Tradition,” (now “Traditsye”), she sidles up to a bearded man (Kirk Geritano)  and says in Yiddish (with surtitles in English and Russian):

Avrom, I have a golden match [ “a goldenem shidukh”] for your son, a girl, a diamond.

Who is she?

Rokhl, the shoemaker’s daughter.

Rokhl? She can barely see. She’s almost entirely blind.

The truth is, Avrom, what is there to see in your son? The way she sees, and the way he looks— it’s a match from heaven.

And right there, Jackie Hoffman reveals that Yiddish is surely the source of her comic gifts; the shrug and the whine and the wisecrack are embedded in the rhythm of the language.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged and read the caption.

Read more of this post

The Saintliness of Margery Kempe Review: Revisiting A 15th Century Feminist Con Artist

In her actual medieval memoir, which was rediscovered in the 1930s, Margery Kempe seems almost as extreme in her devotion as her 15thcentury contemporary, Joan of Arc. The English woman tells us in her book of her weeping and shrieking for Jesus, of her spiritual visions and holy visitations, of her decision to overcome temptation and turn her marriage chaste, and of her pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Rome.

But in the current revival at the Duke on 42nd Street of John Wulp’s 1958 play “The Saintliness of Margery Kempe,” which was inspired by Kempe’s 600-year-old book, the character of Margery Kempe seems like something of a con artist. And the tone of the play, as directed by Austin Pendleton, registers somewhere between a picaresque like “Candide” and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.”

Read more of this post