Friday, March 17, 2023

Dear World

 Dear World
New York City Center Encores!
March 16, 2023 

Photo courtesy of
New York City Center Encores!

Donna Murphy shines in the New York City Center Encores! production of Dear World.  Based on Jean Giraudoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot, this is a rarely seen Jerry Herman gem.  The book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee is whimsical and charming.  First presented on Broadway in 1969, Dear World ran for 132 performances and 45 previews.  Angela Lansbury won a Tony Award for her performance as the lead character.

It is another rainy day in Paris, yet Countess Aurelia (played by Donna Murphy), also known as the Madwoman of Chaillot, requests to be served outdoors at her favorite sidewalk café.  Everyone quickly follows her lead, and begins to see the world a little brighter.  Meanwhile, the President (played by Brooks Ashmanskas) receives information from the Prospector (played by Stanley Wayne Mathis) that there is oil beneath the streets of Paris, particularly under Countess Aurelia’s favorite outdoor café.  He orders his assistant, Julian (played by Philip Johnson Richardson) to blow up the café so it will be worthless to anyone but him.  He will then mine the oil for his personal gain.  Julian is unable to carry out the orders, and attempts to kill himself.  A Policemen (played by Eddie Korbich) takes Julian to the café to revive him from his suicide attempt.  When he awakens, Julian looks into the eyes of Nina (played by Samantha Williams).  They instantly fall in love.  Julian tells Countess Aurelia of the President’s plan to take over Paris.  She consults with her close friends Constance (played by Andréa Burns) and Gabrielle (played by Ann Harada), both of whom are also madwomen, to come up with a plan.  They bring in the Sewerman (played by Christopher Fitzgerald) to help carry it out.  Can the plan of three madwomen conquer the greed of the rich?   Will Julian be able to turn his back on his ruthless boss and choose love? 

Photo courtesy of
New York City Center Encores!

Dear World was originally conceived as a chamber musical.  Despite the expansive size of City Center, this production captures the intimacy of the piece.  The scene in Act II between Countess Aurelia (Donne Murphy), Constance (Andréa Burns) and Gabrielle (Ann Harada) is enchanting.  The songs “Memory, “ “Pearls,” “Dickie,” “Voices,” and “Thoughts” culminates in “Tea Party Trio,” bonding these three character in their unique view of the world.  These three actors are stunning together.  Their timing is in total sync, and their voices blend beautifully.  This is followed by “Have a Little Pity on the Rich,” sung by Christopher Fitzgerald as Sewerman.  He is funny, sarcastic, and dark.  He sells the song for all its worth.  

Donna Murphy as Countess Aurelia
Photo courtesy of New York City Center Encores!

The Encores! Orchestra, under the direction of Mary-Mitchell Campbell brings Jerry Herman’s score beautifully to life.  The title song sends a strong message that is still relevant in today’s climate.  Director/Choreographer Josh Rhodes unites this skillful cast in finding the charm and passion deep within this clandestine treasure.    

Dear World is playing at City Center through March 19. 

Domenick Danza

Friday, March 10, 2023

Bad Cinderella

 Bad Cinderella
Imperial Theatre
March 9, 2023 

Photo courtesy of Bad Cinderella

Bad Cinderella, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest musical to come to Broadway from the West End, boldly transforms the Cinderella story.  The book, by Emerald Fennel, is sharp and daring.  The characters are inventive and uniquely funny.  The plot is packed with unexpected twists and turns.  David Zippel’s lyrics set up the main conflict and propel the action by making the character’s objectives clear and full of passion.  Mr. Webber pays homage to Richard Rogers melodies from the score of his well-known version of Cinderella, then transforms them to a deeper and darker mood.  

A full year has gone by since Prince Charming left Bellville to fight a dragon.  He is presumed dead.  On the day the Queen (played by Grace McLean) declares her second, timid, and homely son, Sebastian (played by Jordan Dobson) as the new heir to the throne, she unveils a monument to honor Charming in the town square.  Unfortunately, the statue has been vandalized.  The townspeople, who believe outer beauty is of utmost importance, all know the culprit is Bad Cinderella (played by Linedy Genao).  In order to distract the kingdom from panicking about an impending rebellion due to the defaced statue, the Queen decides to throw a Ball on Saturday night.  She demands that Prince Sebastian chose a bride at the Ball and marry her on Sunday.   

Linedy Genao as Cinderella
Photo courtesy of Bad Cinderella
Sebastian seeks out Cinderella, who is a childhood friend of his, and blames her for his situation.    He
invites Cinderella to the Ball so he won’t feel alone.  He is secretly in love with Cinderella, but is afraid to tell her.  Cinderella’s Stepmother (played by Carolee Carmello) overhears Sebastian inviting Cinderella to the Ball, and comes up with a plan to get her two daughters, Adelle (played by Sammi Gayle) and Marie (played by Morgan Higgins), in the Prince’s favor.
 

Cinderella visits Godmother (played by understudy Paige Smallwood) for a makeover before the Ball.  Godmother warns her of the price of beauty, yet Cinderella accepts the consequences.  When she shows up at the Ball, Sebastian does not recognize her because of the makeover.  At midnight, he is tricked into an engagement with Adelle.  Out of jealousy, Marie decides to help Cinderella stop the wedding, but an unexpected arrival gets there before her. 

Jordan Dobson & Carolee Carmello
Photo courtesy of Bad Cinderella

Linedy Genao and Jordan Dobson are wonderful together as Cinderella and Sebastian.  They have a strong, sincere bond.  Their characters grow throughout the story.  Their relationship deepens with genuine emotion.  Mr. Dobson’s character opens up during his song “Only You, Lonely You” in Act I.  Ms. Genao soars while singing “Easy to Be Me” in Act I and “Cinderella’s Soliloquy” in Act II.  

Carolee Carmello is outstanding as Stepmother.  She and Grace McLean have great comic timing.  Their duet, “I Know You,” is brash and witty.  Understudy Paige Smallwood delivers a mysterious performance as Godmother.

The choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter is crisp and energetic.  The sets and costumes by Gabriella Tylesova are bright and imaginative.  The entire cast is amazing.  Bad Cinderella is a lot of fun and sure to be a hit. 

Domenick Danza

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Letters from Max

 Letters from Max
Signature Theatre Company
The Griffin Theatre
The Pershing Square Signature Center
February 22, 2023 

Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre Company

Sarah Ruhl’s Letters from Max, now playing at Signature Theatre, is a heartwarming telling of the relationship between teacher and student that grows into a mutually supportive and creative camaraderie.  It is based on the book Ms. Ruhl wrote with Max Ritvo.  It contains their correspondence over a number of years and through challenging and painful times.  The production is simply and effectively conceived, driven by a combination of direct address and dialogue scenes that depict moments of genuine connection and admiration.  Director Kate Whoriskey sculpts this piece into an intimate journey through pain and fear into understanding, peace, and love.

Sarah (played by Jessica Hecht) first meets Max (played by Ben Edelman) when he attended her playwriting class at Yale.  She immediately notices his light and creativity.  Max, a poet and comic, who never wrote a play in his life, was in remission from pediatric cancer.  He and Sarah share emails, letters, and texts, discussing their creative perspectives.  They quickly bond.  When Max’s cancer returns, their correspondence takes on a more serious tone.  Sarah says that she often felt like the student.  Max was teaching her so much about life, and challenging her to see herself more clearly.  Max undergoes a number of trial treatments for his cancer, yet never loses his creative drive or stops writing.  

Ben Edelman & Jessica Hecht
Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre Company

Jessica Hecht is phenomenal in the role of Sarah.  Her heart is open from the first moment, and continues to expand throughout the action of the play.  Her connection with Ben Edelman (Max) is truthful and tangible.  Mr. Edelman’s character faces his mortality with courage and endurance, which is reflected back to him through the relationship he creates with Ms. Hecht’s character.  Their bond is genuine.  They welcome the audience into their story, yearning to share the experience. 

The discussions of life, death, and life after death in the letters are wise, caring, and hopeful.  The audience comes to conclusions along with the characters, as they share their stories and ponder their fates. 

Letters from Max is playing at the Griffin Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Theatre Center through March 19.  Go see it!  It will do your heart some good. 

Domenick Danza

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

 The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Harvey Theater
February 12, 2023 

Photo courtesy of 
The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window at BAM

Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan are wonderful together in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, now playing at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater.  This lesser known Lorraine Hansberry play is full of fire and conflict.  Director Anne Kauffman keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, which is important with the three hour running time.  The characters are diverse and equally developed, offering divergent points of view on social and political issues.  The story takes place in 1964 Greenwich Village.  

Sidney (played by Oscar Isaac) just closed down his night club and bought a newspaper.  His wife, Iris (played by Rachel Brosnahan), has not been told of his recent project.  She is a waitress/actress/dancer trying to find her way as a theatre artist, while balancing her husband’s many business ventures.  Sidney’s friend, Wally O’Hara (played by Andy Grotelueschen) is running for office and wants Sidney’s newspaper to endorse him.  Sidney wants his paper to stay focused on the arts, and not become a political tool.  Once Wally hangs his political sign in Sidney’s window, there is no going back. 

Photo courtesy of
The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window
 at BAM

In the meantime, Sidney’s friend, Alton (played by Julian DeNiro), has asked Iris’s sister, Gloria (played by Gus Birney) to marry him.  She is holding off on accepting his proposal while she is in Florida.  Alton does not know that Gloria is a call girl.  Iris’ other sister, Mavis (played by Miriam Silverman) is constantly trying to get Iris to dress and act more conservatively, while not holding back on her antisemitic and racist comments.  Sidney and Iris’ upstairs neighbor, David (played by Glenn Fitzgerald) is a gay, struggling playwright.  Among all this controversy and strong opinion, Iris admits to Sidney that their marriage is weakening. 

In Act II, the characters reveal and face their truths, which leads them all down a dark path.  Sidney finds out that the political endorsement he committed his newspaper to was all based on lies.  When personal tragedy strikes Iris and her sisters, it’s time for Sidney to let go of the distraction and be there for Iris.

Ms. Hansberry created a vibrant community of truthful characters in this play.  They are each dedicated to their beliefs, and passionately voice their opinions.  This creates innate conflict and keeps the dramatic action alive throughout the piece.  There is a intensity between Sidney and Iris that Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan play brilliantly.  Their quarrels build into moments of fervent affection.  The love between these two characters is deeply rooted.  Mr. Isaac and Ms. Brosnahan create a genuine connection that fully engages the audience all the way through to the conclusion of the story.

Playwright Lorraine Hansberry
Photo courtesy of Lorraine Hansberry Estate

Ms. Hansberry does not take a political stance in this piece.  Instead she presents the events and their effect on the characters, both socially and personally.  This gives the audience the opportunity to share the experience and draw their own conclusion.  The parallels from these events in 1964 to the social/pollical/personal challenges we face in our present time are astounding.  The play rings with relevance and clarity.

There are strong performance from every member of this cast.  The Act II monologues by Julian DeNiro (Alton) and Miriam Silverman (Mavis) are outstanding.  

The Sign in Sidney Burstein’s Window is playing at BAM’s Harvey Theater through March 24.  It is a powerful piece of theatre, masterfully directed and skillfully performed.

Domenick Danza

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Pictures from Home

 Pictures from Home
Studio 54
January 20, 2023 

Photo courtesy of Pictures from Home

In Pictures from Home, playwright Sharr White takes a deep dive into Larry Sultan’s photo memoir of the same title.  She is quoted as saying, “This play is my exploration of Larry’s exploration.”  She takes Mr. Sultan’s probing of the relationship between his parents and his juxtaposition of truth with image to the next level.  Ms. White adds layers of fiction to the story through her dialogue.  The characters speak their truth as they face the masks they wear in order to project the images they desire.  Director Bartlett Sher molds and shapes this play into an emotional engaging piece of theatre.  The direct address seamlessly blends into genuine moments between the characters that are full of spunk and humor.  The cast is truly phenomenal, delivering authentic and heartwarming performances.

The action drops in on year eight of a project undertaken by photographer Larry Sultan (played by Danny Burstein).  He is in the process of interviewing and capturing images of his parents, Irving (played by Nathan Lane) and Jean (played by Zoë Wanamaker).  Irv questions the amount of time Larry has been spending on the project, constantly challenging every question he is asked and every photograph his son takes.  In the midst of these disputes, Irv tells of when he quit his job in New York City and moved his family to California to seek a better life.  His success was hard earned, yet his animosity not easily resolved upon his retirement.  Jean’s success in real estate kept the couple financially secure after her husband’s retirement, yet is underplayed in the shadow of Irv’s demanding ego.  These are the areas Larry explores with his photographs and interviews.  How do his parents project the images of success differently?  Can he capture their vulnerable sides?  Which of these qualities are reflected in him? 

Nathan Lane, Danny Burstein, & Zoë Wanamaker
Photo courtesy of Pictures from Home

Nathan Lane and Danny Burstein create a truthful and intimate father/son relationship as Irving and Larry.  They are direct and unapologetic.  They both have high standards for themselves.  They continually push each other beyond their limits.  No matter how harsh they get, you can feel their mutual respect.  Zoë Wanamaker is their rock.  She is the devoted wife, caring mother, and straight man to both male characters.  The timing between these three actors is impeccable, and surpassed only by their heart and sincerity.

Playwright Sharr White asks more questions in the course of this play than she delivers answers.  This directly corresponds to the purpose of Larry Sultan’s photography.  As his photographs tell a full story in an isolated image, questioning the truth in the perspective, so do Ms. White’s individual scenes.  They are full of subtext and backstory.  The audience is able to respond to each moment, relate to the characters and events, and bring their own perspective to the story.  They become part of the intimacy shared between the characters, their tenderness, their frustrations, their eagerness, and their hesitations. 

The character of Larry Sultan discovers at the conclusion of the story that his greatest joy is in how he touched a culture with his work.  We feel that touch in this play.  Pictures from Home is playing at Studio 54 for a limited engagement.  Don’t miss it!  

Domenick Danza

Monday, January 2, 2023

The Collaboration

 The Collaboration
Manhattan Theatre Club
The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
January 1, 2023 

The Manhattan Theatre Club production of The Collaboration is riveting.  Playwright Anthony McCarten characterizes two iconic figures in modern art.  He exemplifies their distinct personalities, and illustrates their impact on one another and the art world.  The play dramatizes their connection, as well as the conflict in their perspectives.  Director Kwame Kwei-Armah molds the flow of action, clearly laid out by Mr. McCarten, so the audience identifies with each of the artists at different times in the story. 

Jeremy Pope & Paul Bettany
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club

Art dealer and agent, Bruno Bischofberger (played by Erik Jensen) suggests to Andy Warhol (played by Paul Bettany) and Jean-Michael Basquiat (played by Jeremy Pope) that they collaborate.  Both men initially refuse.  Their resistance stems from their own insecurities and unwillingness to bend.  Bruno’s ability to convince them both is due to each artists’ admiration and respect for the other’s work.  They meet and immediately challenge one another.  Basquiat is visceral and instinctual.  He paintings are primal and bold.  Warhol is distant and analytical, having transitioned into silk screening and film making.  Warhol’s main interest is to film Basquiat.  Basquiat pushes Warhol to pick up a brush and paint again.  Their views on art are juxtaposed, yet they are bonded by their level of success and drive to create.  They challenge one another to face themselves. Their bond outlives them both.

Paul Bettany portrays Andy Warhol as a vulnerable, apprehensive man, hesitant to engage.  Warhol’s understanding of art and seeing the need for people to distance themselves is far ahead of his time.  When Andy Warhol’s beliefs are shared, they are easily recognizable in the ways we relate via social media.  Mr. Bettany has full conviction of these beliefs.  He is able to make Warhol’s complex views of art clear and accessible. 

Jeremy Pope portrays Jean-Michel Basquiat as an energetic free spirit, who paints incessantly, creating bold forms and dark images from deep within his soul.  The audience understands what drives him.  We feel it in Mr. Pope’s energy.  Mr. Pope takes his character further than anticipated in Act II when he faces the brutal beating and death of a close friend, and reveals the reason for his painting.  Mr. Pope exposes the heart of his character.  It is truly a revelation. 

Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club

These actors initially give the audience a representation of their characters to entice and satisfy the expectation.  They then dive deeply into the truths of these iconic figures, revealing their beliefs, motivations, and hidden fears.  They are magnificent together.  They have a vibrant, palpable chemistry.  They use the opposite traits of their characters to magnetize their performances.  They create a need for their collaboration, and build a genuine bond that is deeper and stronger than the work they create.  

There is video during the intermission, which fills in the blank of how their relationship flourishes.  This is vital to the full impact of the story.  Be sure not to miss it.  

The Collaboration has been extended through January 29.  It is playing at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.  This play will challenge your intellect and satisfy your imagination.  

Domenick Danza

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Leopoldstadt

 Leopoldstadt
Longacre Theatre
December 30, 2022 

Photo courtesy of Leopoldstadt

Tom Stoppard has outdone himself with Leopoldstadt.  The play runs two hours and ten minutes without intermission, and flies by.  The characters are rich and clear, full of vigor and continually standing up for themselves.  They are flawed and real, striving to find their place in the world, while struggling to find their place within their own family.

Photo courtesy of Leopoldstadt

It is 1899.  We meet a very well-off Jewish family living in Vienna.  The children are decorating a Christmas tree.  The adults find it amusing when one of the young boys puts the Star of David on top of the tree.  This is a progressive family, who openly discuss politics, the unjust ways of the world, their Jewish heritage, and the choices some of them made with interfaith marriage.  A few of the women are looking through a photo album.  One of them comments that when a family member dies without a photo, their face is lost forever.  This family looks forward to the turn of the 20th century with optimism, even thought they are well aware of the obstacles and antisemitism they face.

Photo courtesy of Leopoldstadt

The story continues to follow the children and grandchildren of this family through 1924, 1938, and 1955.  Their personal conflicts continue as the political environment in Austria drastically changes, yet their identity remain strong, as they can see in the photo album they carry with them through the decades.

This play has a cast of over twenty phenomenal actors.  Director Patrick Marber keeps the focus sharp through the span of fifty-six years of action, which includes changes of actors as their characters age.  Tom Stoppard’s writing is dense and complex, full of both political commentary and the personal yearnings of the characters.  Mr. Marber and this skilled cast find the through lines of emotion that keep the audience engaged, connected, and on the edge of their seats.  

As in most of Mr. Stoppard’s work, he uses math as a metaphor for the action.  In this piece, it is the cat’s cradle.  The mathematician character ties three knots in string, then shows the children how to play.  He points out the change in location of the knots every time the string changes shape.  These coordinates seem random when looked at independently, yet, as one of the children points out, they are very much determined by the previous position and movement of the string.  This represents the migration of the Jewish people over centuries, never having a land of their own, being forced to move by varied political and social upheaval. 

Photo courtesy of Leopoldstadt

During a political discussions in the 1924 scene, one of the characters asks, “Do you really think it will happen again?”  She is referring to the hatred that keeps the Jewish people persecuted and transitory.  The characters have no idea what is ahead for them.  When we get to the final scene, where three family members are reunited in 1955, they read off the names on their family tree.  They solemnly state the names of their family members who were killed in Auschwitz.  Tom Stoppard gives us pause to identify the hatred that was strongly present int the 20th Century and recognize it is still alive in the 21st.  This profound moment pulls the meaning of this fifty-six year story together.  It is a visceral moment of awareness and a bold statement on the continuous legacy of hatred throughout history.

Leopoldstadt is playing at the Longacre Theatre.  You must see this play!

Domenick Danza