Friday, April 01, 2016

Stageworthy April 2016

Reviews of (in order of most recently seen and reviewed for this month):

Oraltorio: a Theatrical Mixtape - The Riser Project at The Theatre Centre - Toronto, ON
Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom - Canadian Stage Company at Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs - Toronto, ON
If/Then - Princess of Wales Theatre - Toronto, ON
The Judas Kiss - Ed Mirvish Theatre - Toronto, ON
She Loves Me - Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54 - Broadway - New York City, NY
A Streetcar Named Desire - Young Vic at St. Ann's Warehouse - Brooklyn, NY
Tuck Everlasting - Broadhurst Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY
Waitress - Brooks Atkinson Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY
Stupid Fu**ing Bird - Pearl Theatre - Off-Broadway - New York City, NY
Eclipsed - Golden Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY
Fully Committed - Lyceum Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY
Disgraced - Panasonic Theatre - Toronto, ON
The Wizard of Oz - Young People's Theatre - Toronto, ON
X - Royal Court Theatre Downstairs - London, UK
Sunset Boulevard - English National Opera at London Coliseum - London, UK
Chimerica - Canadian Stage at Bluma Appel Theatre - St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts - Toronto, ON

Oraltorio: a Theatrical Mixtape - The Riser Project at The Theatre Centre - Toronto, ON - **1/2
Written by Motion, Music by DJ L'Oqenz, Directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa

I applaud the effort in this urban music through the ages. With a very charismatic Motion taking us through the different musical stylings, a more solid narrative or thread would help tie the show together (or I just didn't get it), but there are many wonderful moments showing this has a lot of promise.

Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom - Canadian Stage Company at Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs - Toronto, ON
Written by Jordan Tannahill
Botticelli in the Fire - ****
Directed by Matjash Mrozewski
Sunday in Sodom - ***
Directed by Estelle Shook

A double bill of one-act plays from new wonder kid Jordan Tannahill. Botticelli is more ambitious in style and substance while Sunday in Sodom is tighter but simpler in scale. While technically Sodom felt more complete, it was Botticelli, despite some pacing issues and slow scene transitions, I enjoyed the modernized storytelling of the artist Botticelli when he's forced to choose between his gay lifestyle and loves and survival when religious fervour seeks to burn homosexuals.

If/Then - Princess of Wales Theatre - Toronto, ON - ****
Music by Tom Kitt, Lyrics and Book by Brian Yorkey, Directed by Michael Greif

I get that this musical was derided by critics but I kinda loved it on Broadway and seeing it again, I still connected with the messy story of a late 30something looking between possibilities of love and career and finding her way in life. Plus, with Anthony Rapp and originally starring Idina Menzel, the show felt like Rent 2: The Condo Years (and since I was a Renthead, I loved that it felt like some sort of continuation). Now we have Jackie Burns (who I've noticed since her Hair days) in the tour but can still hit those high notes. Yes, the lyrics and plot machinations are ridiculous and they still have the airplane scene in it, but despite being a mess, the contemporary plots of middle-class life feels totally relatable and I have a soft spot for it.

The Judas Kiss - Ed Mirvish Theatre - Toronto, ON - **1/2
Written by David Hare, Directed by Neil Armfield

Well at least there is a lot of gratuitous male nudity, particularly in Act 2. I enjoyed Act 2 far more.

I had to look up the rave reviews it got in London to verify I watched the same dry boring play and apparently I did. But even the London reviews that said it was static and slow gave the show 4 or 5 stars. I mean, Rupert Everett is great as Sir Oscar Wilde and spits out those zingers perfectly in character but the play, particularly in the first act is painfully slow and inert. I liked Charlie Rowe as Bosie even though his character is given little to do except be an annoying twink. It probably does not help that the little play that started at Hamstead Theatre, then small Duke of York Theatre in West End, now sits in the vacuous space of the Ed Mirvish Theatre, a place only meant for bombastic mega musicals to fill it's cavernous stage.

For a play about snippy gays with great quips, and the stirring story of the downfall of Wilde, and the added bonus of some impressive male nudity, the play felt like the slow kiss of death.

Though here's Tom Colley as the naked Italian in the second act. You're welcome:

She Loves Me - Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54 - Broadway - New York City, NY - ****1/2
Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Book by Joe Masteroff, Directed by Scott Ellis

One of my favourite old musicals with a dream team cast of Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski. Add in the adorable Nicholas Barasch as Arpad (though seeing him all grown up from Leap of Faith was quite the shock!). Love She Loves Me.

A Streetcar Named Desire - Young Vic at St. Ann's Warehouse - Brooklyn, NY - *****
Written by Tennessee Williams, Directed by Benedict Andrews

It was the best thing I saw in 2014, and seeing it again only re-confirmed that this was an incredible production that spins the classic play into a new perspective (both literally and figuratively) with incredible performances by Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster and Vanessa Kirby. Anderson's slow devolvement of Blanche DuBois is mesmerizing and heartbreaking. What Foster does with Stanley Kowalski, making a hulk of a baby within the ape-like man lets you believe why Kirby's Stella is both sexually aroused by him and why his child-like outbursts are to be feared. The push and pull between the three have never had more tension, yet you understand the irristable attraction that causes the friction in the battle of the classes (and new reality).
If you missed it at Young Vic, DO NOT MISS THIS at St. Ann's.

Tuck Everlasting - Broadhurst Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - **1/2
Music by Chris Miller, Lyrics by Nathan Tysen, Book by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle, Directed by Casey Nicholaw

From the first moment, director Casey Nicholaw throws in every musical theatre cliché possible that it would have been a great show if this was a spoof. It may have worked for The Book of Mormon or Something Rotten but this is a very different story and show. Big flashy musical numbers in a sombre story about death and life don't gel in this odd and sadly soulless musical. Great songs could have hid the fact but the original songs by Milly and Tysen always show promise but never quite deliver full emotional moments. Despite a talented cast that tries their best, including Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Carolee Carmelo, and Michael Park as the Tucks, the character I cared most about was an almost unnecessary young detective (the always wonderful, and underused Michael Wartella). While Shear and Federle do their best trying to add humour to the romantic and fantastical story, it still has to deal with a story that has a 102 year old man (in a 17 year old's body, played by a 30 year old) connecting with an 11 year old girl, then singing about waiting 6 years before he can marry her.

And then the last 10 minutes happens in basically an afterword to the story that is a beautiful ballet when life continues after the Tucks leave (in a show called Tuck Everlasting).  If only the whole show had the same beauty, energy and tone as that afterward, the show would be everlasting.

Waitress - Brooks Atkinson Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - ****
Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles, Book by Jessie Nelson, Directed by Diane Paulus

Jessie Mueller Jessie Mueller Jessie Mueller! A magical musical theatre performer who whisks us into her world and into her heart as she lovingly sings Sara Bareilles new songs for the musical adaptation to the film Waitress (the wonder film by Adrienne Shelly). Surrounded by a wonderful cast, with the excellent Keala Settle and Kimiko Glenn as her fellow waitresses with love problems, the delicious Drew Gehling as a charming doctor, and the always delightful Christopher Fitzgerald as a blind date who won't go away. The all female creative team manages to bury the creep factors inherent within the story and maintain the air of romanticism and delightful comedy (for better or for worse). Bareilles' first foray into musical theatre is beautiful and subtle but not helped by the band  that buries the melodies under overemphasized drums (an orchestra or at least a few strings and woodwinds may have helped match with the score's essence).

Stupid Fu**ing Bird - The Pearl Theatre Co. - Off-Broadway - New York City, NY - ****
Written by Aaron Posner, Directed by Davis McCallum

The new play "sort of" adapted from Chekhov's The Seagull is either complete BS, totally genius, or genius BS. As someone who is not a fan of the traditional Seagull's that tend to bore me, Stupid Fu**cking Bird is refreshing and invigorating when it takes the classic play into its own spin, and spin it does. While moments of more traditional Chekhov scenes slows the show to a halt, with McCallum's direction and a contemporary meta take on the play, spoofing not just Chekhov but the theatre in general, the play is still a clever dizzying hilarious romp. Standout performances by newcomer Christopher Sears as our intrepid playwright and Joe Paulik as the best friend are worth watching for as well.

Eclipsed - Golden Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - ****
Written by Danai Gurira, Directed by Liesl Tommy

A powerful story that I didn't want to watch, so stressful to watch, "why am I watching this?" kept running through my head during the show but the horrific lives of these woman trapped in war is a cathartic emotional release. The 5 all-female cast of Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o, Saycon Sengbloh, Pascale Armand, Akosua Busia, and Zainab Jah are equally stupendous and empowering in their performances. Another excellent ensemble that makes a great case for ensemble acting awards.

Fully Committed - Lyceum Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - ***1/2
Written by Becky Mode, Directed by Jason Moore

A cute little play thrown onto the Broadway stage with a massive wine wall and a spiral tower of chairs in a beautiful set by Derek McLane but it's Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) back to his Broadway roots who fills the stage. Juggling numerous characters, Ferguson is a delight and a hoot, bringing great comedic timing, a warmth, and some cutting portrayals of the elite vying for a reservation at a hot restaurant. Not a must see but delicious if you do.

Disgraced - Panasonic Theatre - Toronto, ON - ****
Written by Ayad Akhtar, Directed by Robert Ross Parker

Loved it on Broadway. Loved it in Toronto. Intense and incendiary play with such smart debates. Sometimes too cleverly stated with ideas flowing out faster than the plot can smooth over, but actors like Karen Glave, Michael Rubenfeld and Ali Momen make things believable and Birgitte Solem and real-life husband Raoul Bhaneja (though I did not know this until the talkback after) have an amazing chemistry together (makes sense).

The Wizard of Oz - Young People's Theatre - Toronto, ON - ****1/2
Written by L. Frank Baum, Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, Directed by Joey Tremblay

YPT always brings in great shows from other theatre companies but their own self-produced musicals are always the most joyous shows filled with the amazing (and underused) local musical talent. In this case, they bring back my faves Justin Bott, Matthew G. Brown, David Coomber as the Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow to join star-in-the-making Vanessa Sears (in her spectacular year from Brantwood to Kinky Boots) as Dorothy. Sears' "Over the Rainbow" made me tear up at only 10 minutes into the show (ALREADY!) and her warmth, pluck and confident performance leads a tremendous company in our perennial fave. Add in Amy Matysio's delicious evil performance as the Wicked Witch of the West, and a strong ensemble including Jonathan Ellul, Alana Hibbert and Jamie McRoberts, and I have my case wondering why Toronto does not have more constant musicals running with these superb talents.

X - Royal Court Theatre Downstairs - London, UK - ***1/2
Written by Alistair McDowall, Directed by Vicky Featherstone

Lost in space (or on Pluto to be precise) and time as a British space crew slowly devolves or at least from what I could understand (sort of like my confusion at McDowall's enjoyable/creepy Pomona) but it was riveting drama, playing with perception and time as one ponders life in isolated darkness. Also, an amazing space station set and lighting and sound effects/score, all done on the small Royal Court Downstairs stage. Impressive.

Sunset Boulevard - English National Opera at London Coliseum - London, UK - ****
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Book and Lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, Directed by Lonny Price

I have a soft spot for this ALW musical. Maybe it's the old-time Hollywood glamour and the sweeping scores, but hearing it with a full ENO orchestra sounded great. Glenn Close's return as Norma Desmond in all her faded delusional glory (Norma's, not Glenn's) was just the grandeur needed to fill the London Coliseum.

Chimerica - Canadian Stage at Bluma Appel Theatre - St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts - Toronto, ON - ***
Written by Lucy Kirkwood, Directed by Chris Abraham

Some snazzy direction with a spiny set and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Richard Lee finally in a play together about China and what Kirkwood thinks could have been a story behind the famous photo of the unknown protestor at Tiananmen Square. Unfortunately a lot of the plot is spent following a fictionalized account of the White photographer who took the infamous picture and his quest in finding out more years later. Throw in some catchy lines about China in today's world and an uninvolving relationship, and the play does not quite probe the questions it throws as it busy itself from the photographer's point of view, letting the far more fascinating story, the Chi in Chimerica, go unexplored.


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