Saturday, April 30, 2016

Daphne’s Dive

Daphne’s Dive
Signature Theatre
The Pershing Square Signature Center
April 28, 2016

Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Daphne’s Dive is Quiara Alegria Hudes’ impactful play now running at Signature Theatre.  It is about much more than the North Philadelphia dive bar in which it takes place.  It’s about Daphne’s willingness to dive into life when all the odds are against her.  It’s about the bonding and journey of seven characters over the stretch of about eighteen years.  It is realistic, gritty, and edgy.

When the FBI raids the apartment above Daphne’s Dive, they inadvertently leave behind an eleven year old girl, Ruby (played by Samira Wiley).  She is adopted by Daphne (played by Vanessa Aspillaga) and is pretty much raised in the bar.  She is influenced by Daphne’s regulars: Pablo (played by Matt Saldivar), an artist who uses garbage and discarded items as his medium and inspiration; Rey (played by Gordon Joseph Weiss), an aging biker; Jenn (played by KK Moggie), a free-spirited, rebel with a messiah complex; Daphne’s sister, Inez (played by Daphne Rubin-Vega); and her husband Acosta (played by Carlos Gomez), a local businessman and community activist.  A heated argument occurs between Jenn and Acosta the night he is elected to Congress.  This initial crack in the foundation of the group’s connection causes more harm than anyone of them presumes.

Daphne Rubin-Vega, Vanessa Aspillaga,
& Samira Wiley in rehearsal
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
The script has some very powerful moments, which the cast delivers honestly.  They are a tight ensemble authentically portraying strong characters with clear, specific objectives.  Under the direction of Thomas Kail, they bring the play to an emotional climax and poignant conclusion.

“Signature Theatre exists to honor and celebrate the playwright.”  This production does just that for the unique, distinct voice of Quiara Algeria Hudes.  Daphne’s Dive runs at the Pershing Square Signature Center through June 12.

Domenick Danza

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

American Psycho, the Musical

American Psycho, the Musical
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
April 16, 2016

Photo Courtesy of
American Psycho, the Musical
The stark, white set of a New York apartment fills up with smoke.  We hear the rhythmic, steady pounding of a heartbeat.  The shadowy figures of a man and woman appear.  Blood splatters.  Blackout.  That is the first three minutes of AmericanPsycho, the Musical.  The tone is set.  The erotic and stylistic telling of this dark story has begun.  The production, under the brilliant direction of Rupert Goold, accurately evokes the mindset of New York City in 1989.  It is fast paced with a crispness and shine that reflects on present day values and convictions.

Benjamin Walker is captivating as Wall Street Banker, Patrick Bateman.  He skillfully carries the show with a calm demeanor, intense focus, and outstanding singing voice.  He creates a character that is real, flawed, apathetic, and identifiable.  Jennifer Damiano, who plays his secretary, Jean, lures us deeper into the dark side of this psychological tale with a sincere portrayal of naive obsession.  She catalyzes the character of Patrick Bateman, twisting the plot to an unexpected climax and resolution.

Benjamin Walker & the Ensemble
Photo courtesy of American Psycho, the Musical
The book, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis), is masterfully conceived.  The first act overflows with innuendo that generates psychological insight into the characters.  The most outstanding scene is the dinner party in Act I where the spoken dialogue is clearly the inner thoughts of those in attendance.  They blatantly blurt out the words in their heads, which should never be spoken out loud.  The effectiveness of this scene lays the foundation for the framework on which he builds the remainder of the show.  

Benjamin Walker, Jennifer Damiano, & Alice Ripley
Photo courtesy of American Psycho, the Musical
The music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik are powerful.  Some songs create a mechanical and robotic atmosphere, while others reveal the inner workings of the minds of the characters.  His best songs are in Act II.  “At the End of the Island” is biting and witty.  “A Girl Before” is hauntingly engaging.  In the finale, “This is not the End,” the main character reveals his deepest fears.  The force that has driven the plot is brought to a conclusion, and the impactful theme of the show is clearly understood.

Photo courtesy of
American Psycho, the Musical
The design elements of the production (scenic design by Es Devlin, lighting design by Justin Townsend, sound design by Dan Moses Schreier, and video design by Finn Ross) tightly blend together to create a harsh and cold atmosphere that illuminates the static noise and conflict inside the head of the main character.  Combined with the ingenious choreography by Lynne Page, the show has a mesmerizing effect on the senses. 

American Psycho, the Musical is a stunning and masterful work of theatre. 

                                                                     Domenick Danza

Monday, April 18, 2016

Long Day’s Journey into Night

Long Day’s Journey into Night
Roundabout Theatre Company
American Airlines Theatre
April 16, 2016

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night is presently in previews at the American Airlines Theatre.  The production has the high level of quality we have come to expect from Roundabout Theatre Company.  Under the bold direction of Jonathan Kent is a stellar cast lead by Jessica Lange and Gabriel Bryne.  Combine that with incredible sets and magnificent costumes and what you get is an event worthy of this American classic.

Act I opens with laughter as the Tyrone family start the day with breakfast, happy that Mary (played by Jessica Lange), has returned from a short absence.  As the morning progresses, their true family dynamic begins to surface.  Mary is clearly in denial about the possible illness of her younger son, Edmund (played by John Gallagher Jr.).  Her husband, James (played by Gabriel Bryne), freely voices his disappointment with their older son, Jamie (played by Michael Shannon), who responds with a palpable, cold indifference.  All three men look at Mary with concern that she is too quickly falling back to the problem that caused her previous absence.  In Act II the seriousness of Edmund’s illness and Mary’s drug addiction is revealed.  In Act III and Act IV we find out the source of the despair of each member of this family.  By the time the day’s journey ends, the level of their hopelessness is evident and overwhelming.

Gabriel Byrne & Jessica Lange
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Act III is when Jessica Lange rises up and commands the stage.  She illuminates Mary Tyrone’s past as she tells her maid (played by Colby Minifie) about her school days in the convent, the adoration of her father, and when she first met and fell in love with her husband.  We gain a sentimental insight into the idealistic beliefs and disillusioned life that causes her denial.  She heartbreakingly shares the events that brought her to addiction.  Her loneliness, suffering, and desperate need for relief from pain are deeply understood.  Just when you are convinced her husband is a self-centered miser, Gabriel Bryne imparts a truthful exposition of the experiences that triggered James Tyrone’s disappointments and motivate his behavior.  Michael Shannon stumbles in drunk during this scene and tears open Jamie’s defensive fa├žade with a brutally honest confession to his brother.  The caring and compassionate side of his character is revealed and the need for his hard, outer shell is understood.  John Gallagher Jr.’s Edmund does not stop fighting back, yet carries a strong sense of victimized defeat.  It is in his authentic portrayal that Eugene O’Neill’s deeper themes are accurately represented.    
  
The cast of Long Day's Journey into Night
Jessica Lange, Gabriel Bryne, Michael Shannon, & John Gallagher, Jr.
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Roundabout Theatre’s production of Long Day’s Journey into Night runs through June 26 at the American Airline Theatre on 42nd Street.  With a running time of four hours, including one fifteen minute intermission, it is definitely a long journey, yet with masterful performances that provoke and develop true human pathos from Eugene O’Neill’s dense text, it is a journey worth taking. 
Domenick Danza

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All that Followed

Shuffle Along
or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All that Followed
The Music Box
April 9, 2016

Photo courtesy of Shuffle Along
There is something amazing happening on the stage at the Music Box.  Audra MacDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Billy Porter lead a tremendously skilled cast and ensemble of twenty-six singers/dancers in a show that is powerful, entertaining, informative and thought provoking.  Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All that Followed tells the story as clearly as the title states.  It has the original music and lyrics by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, arrangements and orchestrations by Daryl Waters, and a new book by George C. Wolfe.  Savion Glover’s choreography is astounding!  He recreates the style and syncopation of the era with his own signature and flair.

The first act tells about how F.E. Miller (played by Brian Stokes Mitchell) and Aubrey Lyles (played by Billy Porter) teamed up with composer Eubie Blake (played by Brandon Victor Dixon) and lyricist Noble Sissle (played by Joshua Henry) to write a new musical for Broadway that challenged their creative voices in ways the social and racial norms would not allow.  Their show stars Lottie Gee (played by Audra MacDonald) and Gertrude Saunders, who is later replaced by Florence Mills (both roles played by Adrienne Warren).  Each scene chronicles their struggle and fortitude.  They never falter from moving toward achieving their goal, which is proudly illustrated in the Act I finale with the bold and vivacious production number from the original Shuffle Along

Photo courtesy of Shuffle Along
The second act follows the rise to fame and tragic downfall of this little known creative team.  Mr. Wolfe’s book gives a stylistic insight into the cultural limitations of the time and the historic significance of these artists’ unsung contribution.  His most well written and directed scenes are ones that elucidate the love affair between Eubie Blake and Lottie Gee.  Audra MacDonald and Brandon Victor Dixon have a phenomenal chemistry in these roles.  Their characters are multi-dimensional and full of heart, charm, and determination.  Ms. MacDonald has a number of strong moments that reveal the desperate need of her character after years of personal and professional struggle.  Billy Porter and Brian Stokes Mitchell also have a strong chemistry as the comic writing duo of Miller and Lyles.  Their timing is a reflection of their backstory and relationship.  Billy Porter delivers a heart wrenching, show stopping number in the second act. 

One of the ingenious points of Mr. Wolfe’s book is the way he has addresses actors playing numerous roles.  His casting in these instances is phenomenal.  Brooks Ashmanskas plays a number of these roles with dexterity, humor, and commitment.  Adrienne Warren has a powerful singing voice and versatile acting skills that is gallantly shown off in the roles she undertakes. 

The show has a few more weeks of previews before it opens on April 28.  There is still work to be done to tighten up the impact of the story, yet this creative team is sure to deliver.  It is an awe-inspiring effort, envisioned and led by Mr. Wolfe, which is sure to have an extraordinary pay off.  For more historic details about the original production of Shuffle Along, read the New York Times Magazine section article from March 27.  It will inspire you to buy a ticket. 

Photo courtesy of Shuffle Along
Domenick Danza

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Tuck Everlasting

Tuck Everlasting
Broadhurst Theatre
April 2, 2016

Photo courtesy of Tuck Everlasting
If you ever read Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt and thought it would make a great musical, you’ve got to see the Broadway production now in previews at the Broadhurst Theatre.  Composer Chris Miller, lyricist Nathan Tyson, and book writers, Claudia Shear and Tim Federle, exquisitely interpret this magical story for the Great White Way.  Director / Choreographer Casey Nicholaw invigorates the production with grace and panache.  The entire cast provides the heart and verve that entice and engage all your senses.

Eleven year old Winnie Foster (played by Sarah Charles Lewis) feels confined by the fence around her front yard and trapped in having to always be a “good girl.”  She escapes into the woods behind her house.  There she meets seventeen year old Jessie Foster (played by Andrew Keenan-Bolger).  He talks her into climbing to the top of the tallest tree in the forest, where Winnie gets a glimpse of her home from a new perspective.  Jessie tells Winnie his secret.  He and his family have not aged since they drank from a spring in the forest over one hundred years ago.  Neither of them knows the dangers that lie ahead when this secret gets out.

Andrew Keenan-Bolger & Sarah Charles Lewis
Photo courtesy of Tuck Everlasting
Sarah Charles Lewis is making her Broadway debut as Winnie Foster in this production.  She is warm-hearted, energetic and truly amazing.  Andrew Keenan-Bolger is adventurous and trusting as Jessie Foster.  Carolee Carmello and Michael Park play his parents, Mae and Angus Tuck.  Together they give authentic and grounded performances.  Their relationship deepens as they open their hearts to eleven year old Winnie Foster.  Robert Lenzi is strong and endearing as Jessie’s brother, Miles.  His character opens up with honesty and vulnerability in Act II, when he tells the story of his son and how having an everlasting life caused them to separate.  Michael Wartella is witty and charming as Hugo, the impeccable side kick to Fred Applegate’s steadfast Constable Joe.  One of the highlights of the show is Terrance Mann as the Man in the Yellow Suit.  He is funny, evil, and superb.

Terrance Mann as the Man in the Yellow Suit
Photo courtesy of Tuck Everlasting
The set, designed by Walt Spangler, and lighting, designed by Kenneth Posner, give the production the magic and whimsy it deserves.  The tree is most astounding.  As Winnie and Jessie climb up the stylistically designed trunk and walk out on its bridge-like branches, it fills the stage like a green fortress.  The costumes by Gregg Barnes are perfect for the characters, setting, and time period.  Casey Nicholaw’s direction is seamless, but it is his choreography that brings the show to life.  The dancing connects the story elements, enhances the emotion of each scene, creates an atmosphere of enchantment, and brings the story to a stunning conclusion.

Tuck Everlasting opens on April 26.  It is sure to be a hit, so get your tickets now!


Domenick Danza

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Father

The Father
Manhattan Theatre Club
The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
March 25, 2016

Photo courtesy of Manhttan Theatre Club
The Father is a powerful piece of theatre presently in previews at the Manhattan Theatre Club.  This is not to be confused with the well-known August Strindberg classic.  This play is a new translation by Christopher Hampton of the Moliere Award winning play (France’s most prestigious honor for a new work of theatre) by Florian Zeller.  Directed by Doug Hughes and starring Frank Langella, this play chronicles the perceptions and tragic crumbling of a man as he enters into the final chapter of a once productive life.

The play opens with Anne (played by Kathryn Erbe) talking with her eighty year old father, Andre (played by Frank Langella) about a fight he had with his caregiver.  It is evident by the tone of the discussion that he gets disoriented and is prone to outbursts.  His confusion is understood as a different actor (Kathleen McNenny) plays Anne in the next scene and the dialogue contradicts the facts set up in the first scene.  When Kathryn Erbe returns as Anne in scene three, it becomes clear that the play is going to unfold from Andre’s perplexed point of view.  His memory lapses and bewilderment make total sense when scenes play out with opposing information, flashing lights, different actors playing the same roles, and furniture disappearing.

Frank Langella & Kathryn Erbe
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
Frank Langella is brilliant!  The strength of his presence and stature makes you believe him when he says he does not need anyone to help him.  His character is charming and gregarious.  He skillfully transitions from vigor into helplessness.  Watching him weaken as scenes progress is moving and tragic.  You can feel how lost he is in his own mind.  The relationship created between him and Ms. Erbe is tender and real.  They deeply rely on one another.  Doug Hughes direction brought them to the place where they boldly deliver honest and grounded performances.  Charles Borland, Kathleen McNenny, Hannah Cabell, and Brian Avers also deliver strong performances.

Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club
This performance by Frank Langella is not to be missed.  The script is captivating and uniquely structured.  The Father opens on April 14 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre and runs through June 12.


Domenick Danza