Sunday, March 17, 2019

Superhero


Superhero
Second Stage Theater
Tony Kiser Theater
March 16, 2019

Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
If you need a superhero, who would you conjure or draw?  Would he save the planet, or just you?  Could you be his side-kick, or would you get kicked aside?  These are some of the questions that Simon, the main character of Superhero, now playing at Second Stage Theater, grapples with and tries to answer.  Tom Kitt’s music and lyrics take the audience on an emotionally impactful journey as Simon faces the truth and gains his footing in order to move forward.

Simon (played by Kyle McArthur) draws and writes superhero stories.  His mother, Charlotte (played by Kate Baldwin), is worried about how distant he has become since his father died.  She has been overwhelmed trying to keep her life together.  When Simon witnesses his unassuming neighbor, Jim (played by Bryce Pinkham), perform an act of superhuman strength, he starts believing Jim is a superhero, sent from another galaxy to save the planet.  He convinces his mother to have dinner with Jim to gather details of his personal life.  Once the unresolved thread of their family starts to unwind, it will take a real superhero to help Simon and Charlotte pull their lives back together.

Kate Baldwin & Kyle McArthur
Photo courtesy of Second Stage Theater
Mr. Kitt’s songs superbly develop the characters and relationships.  Kate Baldwin, Kyle McArthur, and Bryce Pinkham make every one of these moments soar.  Their vocal skills are astonishing.  They give every lyric meaning, revealing their characters’ inner need and propelling them forward to connect on a deeper level.

Beowulf Borritt’s scenic design transforms the space into the world of this play.  The transitions from one scene to the next are quick, smooth, and always unexpected.  Every set design of Mr. Borritt creates a specific atmosphere that defines the production and keeps the action moving.  He skillfully delivers that consistent quality in Superhero.  Illusion design by Chris Fisher and projection design by Tal Yarden are imaginative.  They vividly depict the world inside Simon’s head, which is vital to the action of the play. 

Superhero is playing at the Tony Kiser Theater through March 31.

Domenick Danza




Wednesday, March 13, 2019

King Kong


King Kong
The Broadway Theatre
March 9, 2019

Photo courtesy of King Kong
This was my second time seeing King Kong on Broadway.  The first time was during previews.  The show has grown tighter and stronger over the past five months.  I stand by what I wrote back in October (see my post dated October 20, 2018 for details).  The production is truly spectacular.  Drew McOnie’s choreography and staging are brilliant.  Kong himself is truly magnificent.  He is phenomenally conceived and collaboratively performed by a number of highly skilled theatre professionals.  Christiani Pitts, Eric William Morris, and Erik Lochtefeld have grown and solidified their performances since previews.

The reason I went to see it this second time was for a planned field trip with coworkers.  It was great to come together for a Saturday matinee and share this experience.  Everyone had a good time.  I highly recommend King Kong on Broadway for a group outing.  It is a show for the whole family, young and old alike.  Check out Broadway Inbound for group rate tickets.  The operators are courteous and helpful.


Domenick Danza

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Hurricane Diane


Hurricane Diane
New York Theatre Workshop
March 9, 2019

Photo courtesy of New York Theatre Workshop
If Dionysus (Greek) / Bacchus (Roman), the god of wine, winemaking, grape cultivation, fertility, ritual madness, theater, and religious ecstasy, were to return to Earth to save the planet, where would they start?  A cul-de-sac in Morris County, New Jersey, of course.  That is the premise for Hurricane Diane, Madeleine George’s play at New York Theatre Workshop.  Co-produced with WP Theater and originally developed at Two River Theater, this play is all laughs, until reality hits and you realize that saving the planet is not an easy feat.

Michelle Beck, Kate Wetherhead, Mia Barron & Danielle Skraastad
Photo courtesy of New York Theatre Workshop
Carol (played by Mia Barron) wants her yard re-landscaped.  She meets with Diane (played by Becca Blackwell) to discuss the design, which surprisingly does not match Diane’s landscape philosophy.  Diane is really Dionysus (or Bacchus) returning to Earth to save the planet from the destructive forces creating devastating climate change.  When Diane is unable to convince Carol to turn her yard into a balanced ecosystem, she turns to the other three ladies in the cul-de-sac.  Pam (played by Danielle Skraastad) is an easy mark, followed by Renee (played by Michelle Beck).  Beth (played by Kate Wetherhead) is tough to convince, but Diane does have her ways.  She needs four women for the Greek traditional initiation ceremony.  Carol is the final holdout. 

Becca Blackwell as Diane
Photo courtesy of New York Theatre Workshop
Mia Barron, Michelle Beck, Danielle Skraastad, and Kate Wetherhead create four distinct and powerful women who live on the cul-de-sac in Morris County, New Jersey.  Their characters are very much drawn on types, then delve deep into the core of their individual truths.  These actors deliver genuinely funny and riveting portrayals.  Becca Blackwell, as Diane, skillfully and humorously leads these characters down a path to self-awareness.  When Diane’s main objective proves most difficult, playwright Madeleine George makes a cold and brutal statement as to where the responsibility lies for the future of our planet.  Director Leigh Silverman masterfully builds the tension from the humor into a quiet and stunning realization of the truth. 

Hurricane Diane is playing at New York Theatre Workshops through March 24.  Get a ticket and go see it! 


Domenick Danza

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Be More Chill


Be More Chill
Lyceum Theatre
March 2, 2019

Photo courtesy of Be More Chill
How do you survive high school… or any tough situation that life dishes out?  You need to Be More Chill.  This musical is beautifully written by Joe Tracz with bold and edgy music and lyrics by Joe Iconis.  Based on the novel by Ned Vizzini, it evaluates the voices in your head that rule your behavior.  Director Stephen Brackett brilliantly brings together all the elements for this energetic, fast paced production.  The choreography by Chase Brock is sharp and tight.  Costumes by Bobby Frederick Tilley II are bright and defining.  Lighting design by Tyler Micoleau and scenic design by Beowulf Boritt are distinct and unified.  The cast is simply phenomenal, most of them taking on more than one role in the show.

Jeremy (played by Will Roland) is a geek.  His goal is to survive another day in high school.  His Dad (played by Jason SweetTooth Williams) is in a state of depression since his wife left them, causing him to stay at home and not put his pants on.  Jeremy has a crush on Christine (played by Stephanie Hsu).  She is a free spirited theatre geek who doesn’t notice him.  He is bullied at school by Rich (played by Gerard Canonico), who tells him about the squip, a micro-chip in a pill that programs your brain and controls your behavior.  This was Rich’s answer to becoming popular, and can be Jeremy’s solution as well.  Jeremy tells his best friend, Michael (played by Troy Iwata), who goes with him to purchase the squip.  Things move very quickly for Jeremy when The Squip (played by Jason Tan) takes over his brain.  Before you know it, everything is out of control.  His father has to put on his big boy pants to help Jeremy before it’s too late.

Stephanie Hsu & Will Roland
Photo courtesy of Be More Chill
Will Roland and Stephanie Hsu have a strong chemistry as Jeremy and Christine.  Amid the fast paced momentum of the show, they find genuine moments of connection.  Troy Iwata, the understudy for the role of Michael, rocks the house.  Jason Tam is beguiling and commanding as The Squip.  Tiffany Mann blows the roof off the theatre as Jenna with her powerful vocal range.  Strong performances are also delivered by Britton Smith, Katlyn Carlson, and Lauren Marcus. 

Photo courtesy of Be More Chill
Be More Chill already has a strong cult following after successful productions at Two River Theatre in New Jersey and Off Broadway at The Pershing Square Signature Center.  Get a ticket and experience it for yourself.  It will dazzle and energize you! 

Domenick Danza

Sunday, February 24, 2019

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark


By the Way, Meet Vera Stark
Signature Theatre
The Pershing Square Signature Center
February 23, 2019

Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
In By the Way, Meet Vera Stark playwright Lynn Nottage tackles the racial stereotypes generated by the early years of Hollywood.  Together with Director Kamilah Forbes, they put a mirror to the audience for a deep look at how these images still live inside our minds today.  Although first produced in 2011, this play has a timely voice.  The Signature Theatre production brings together an impeccable cast and design team to celebrate Ms. Nottage’s poignant and powerful writing.

Act I opens in Hollywood in 1933.  We are in the posh living room of movie start Gloria Mitchel (played by Jenni Barber).  She is preparing for a screen test with her maid, Vera Stark (played by Jessica Frances Dukes).  While Gloria is nervous, scattered, and high strung, Vera is grounded, focused, and strong-willed.  Vera wants to be a movie actress, yet the color of her skin creates great limitation for her in the movie industry.  In her small apartment she commiserates with her roommate Lottie (played by Heather Alicia Simms), while her second, fair-skinned roommate, Anna Mae (played by Carra Patterson), goes on a date with a white movie director.  Vera meets Leroy Barksdale (played by Warner Miller) while waiting for Gloria to complete her screen test.  Leroy is a musician who claims to be the “Guy Friday” for the film’s director, but turns out to be his chauffer.  All the characters collide at a Hollywood party hosted by Gloria, where their lives and careers are propelled into the lime light.

Warren Miller & Jessica Frances Dukes
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Act II fast forward to 2003.  Vera Stark had success as a film actress, and a retrospective on her career is being presented.  The focus is on the movie she made with Gloria Mitchell in 1933.  The host, Herb Forrester (also played by Warner Miller) shows a 1973 television interview where Vera and Gloria are reunited and come close to spilling a few secrets of Hollywood glamour.

Jessica Francis Duke is captivating as Vera Stark.  She is direct and truthful in the early Hollywood scenes.  Her character’s optimism and determination keep the first act moving.  She and Warner Miller have an amazing chemistry.  Their scenes together are riveting.  They play each and every moment with scintillating musicality.  Ms. Dukes makes a brilliant transition in the portrayal of Vera in 1973.  Her presence is powerful, and her interpretation is rich in subtext that reveals volumes.

Jessica Frances Dukes & Jenni Barber
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
In the final scene, Ms. Nottage makes a bold statement about the courage and integrity of black women in early Hollywood.  Ms. Dukes and Ms. Barber play this moment to perfection, giving an eternal voice to the courage and self-awareness of these pioneers.

The Signature Theatre production of By the Way, Meet Vera Stark has been extended.  It is playing at The Pershing Square Signature Center through March 10.  Do whatever you can to get a ticket.  It is not to be missed.

Domenick Danza

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Cake


The Cake
Manhattan Theatre Club
New York City Stage I
February 21, 2019
  
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
Bekah Brunstetter’s The Cake, at Manhattan Theatre Club, is a light and buttercream look at the serious matter of bigotry and hate.  The playwright explores the gray areas between extremes, allowing the audience time to find redeeming qualities and respect the flaws in all her characters.  Director Lynne Meadow allows the humor to take the lead and become the entryway for the audience to see the point of view of each character without judgement.  I left the theatre wanting cake, which according to Della, the main character, can be the solution to the all world’s problems.  I strongly agree.

Jen (played by Genevieve Angelson) returns to her North Carolina hometown to plan her wedding.  She visits her late mother’s best friend, Della (played by Debra Jo Rupp), who owns a well-loved local bakery.  Della is happy to see Jen and offers to bake the cake for her wedding, until she meets her fiancĂ©, Macy (played by Marinda Anderson).  Della’s religious beliefs keep her from baking the wedding cake, yet she can’t help but feel the joy in Jen and Macy’s love for one another.  She tries to discuss the situation with her husband Tim (played by Dan Daily), but he is more immovable than she expected.

Debra Jo Rupp brings just the right balance to this character.  She is likable, sweet, and caring, while in the same moment stands adamantly on her committed beliefs.  Her character faces a perplexing dilemma.  She allows herself to examine her faith and allegiances.  Ms. Rupp finds flexibility within the character to create genuine moments of generosity and consideration.  

Playwright Bekah Brunstetter
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
Ms. Brunstetter’s best written scenes are when Della is imagining her appearances on her favorite TV baking show.  Della’s greatest aspiration is to win that baking competition.  These scenes satirically address the character’s moral dilemma in a humorous and poignant manner, while illustrating how deeply it is affecting her.

The Manhattan Theatre Club production of The Cake, is playing at New York City Center Stage I through March 31.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Kiss Me, Kate!


Kiss Me, Kate!
Roundabout Theatre Company
Studio 54
February 16, 2019

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
The Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Kiss Me, Kate! is vibrant, jovial, and vivacious.  Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase make the well-known lead roles their own with a chemistry and style that rock the house.  Warren Carlyle’s choreography is sheer perfection.  Director Scott Ellis finds the right pace to keep the laughter flowing and the romantic moments touching and sentimental.

The story revolves around the out of town preview of a new musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.  Actor/Director Fred Graham (played by Will Chase) is starring as Petruchio opposite his ex-wife and diva, Lilli Vanessi (played by Kelli O’Hara), as Kate.  The sparks fly between the two actors backstage as well as onstage when Lilli receives an opening night bouquet from Fred by mistake.  The flowers are meant for Lois (played by Stephanie Styles), who is playing Bianca.  When Bill Calhoun (played by Corbin Bleu) signs Fred Graham’s name to an IOU for a gambling debt, two gangsters (played by John Pankow and Lance Coadie Williams) come to the theatre to collect.  Fred turns this around in his favor by using these two hit men to keep Lilli from walking off the show.

Kelli O'Hara, Corbin Bleu, Stephanie Styles, & Will Chase
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Kelli O’Hara has an elegant and commanding presence.  Her rendition of “So in Love” is beautifully delivered.  Will Chase sings “Were Thine That Special Face,” and “Where is the Life that Late I Lead” with robust vigor.  Stephanie Styles brings down the house with “Always True to You in My Fashion,” including the well-deserved encores.  James T. Lane and the company open the second act with a magnificent “Too Darn Hot” that exuberantly lives up to its title.

This is the best of Cole Porter’s scores.  There are cuts and additions to the book and lyrics, made by Amanda Green, that keep the show running smoothly.  The addition of “From This Moment On” in the second act adds a new motivation for Lilli’s decision to return to Fred.  Changes in lyrics to the finale (both Shakespeare’s and Cole Porter’s) ring truthfully to the theme of the show, and add a message of gender equality.

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Kiss Me, Kate! is playing at Studio 54 through June 2.  Don’t miss this outstanding production of a classic musical.

Domenick Danza