Photo: Sara Krulwich

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors

July 2, 2015: If you were in the vicinity of Seventh Avenue and West 55th Street at about 7:40 p.m. on Wednesday, you may have been alarmed by the sight of a really big Moorish dome sailing into the air. That would have been the roof of City Center, which was blown right off the building when Ellen Greene made her entrance in the blissed-out, two-nights-only concert production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Portraying the sweetest masochist in musical-comedy history — Audrey, the Skid Row florist’s assistant — Ms. Greene received the kind of entrance applause you might imagine greeting the resurrection of Maria Callas at the Metropolitan Opera for a beyond-the-grave performance of “Norma.” But Ms. Greene, make no mistake, is very much alive. It may be more than three decades since she created the role of Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors,” Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s eccentric, grisly, dearly beloved little musical from 1982 about a boy and his man-eating plant. But in a heartfelt performance that brought to mind a virtuosic jazz artist riffing out the essence of a signature melody, Ms. Greene demonstrated that she still unconditionally holds the patent on Audrey. City Center’s roof, in other words, never stayed put for very long. It was one of those nights that show queens, of all persuasions and sexes, will be talking about for as long as there are theater chat rooms on the Internet. Those who were there have gloating rights for the ages. Those who weren’t will pretend that they were.




Of Good Stock

June 30, 2015: In the middle of a Scotch-and-tear-soaked session of recrimination and consolation with her two sisters, the kind that begins with insults and ends in a group hug, a woman named Jess sees fit to wail, “I am trapped in a bad chick flick.” You said it, Jess; not me. But I think you’re being a little hard on yourself. The play in which you are trapped, Melissa Ross’s “Of Good Stock,” actually feels like a better-than-average chick flick — well acted, smoothly paced, occasionally touching and, for those who indulge in such forms of reassurance, as comforting as a quart of mint chocolate chip ice cream, eaten straight from the container. See, I’m falling into the language of the genre myself, using that ice cream simile. Of course, this comic drama about the three romantically challenged daughters of a famous novelist, which opened on Tuesday night at Stage I of City Center, is replete with the clichés often found in lighter film fare starring the likes of Jennifer Aniston or Kate Hudson.



Shows for Days

June 29, 2015: Though she has been known to chew scenery into sawdust, Patti LuPone shrewdly resists making a feast of her high-calorie role in “Shows for Days,” the unresolved new comedy by Douglas Carter Beane that opened on Monday night at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. Ms. LuPone has a part that comes with full license for going over the top and staying there: Irene, a coercive community-theater diva and a showy specialist in blackmail, emotional and otherwise. She’s a character a less savvy actress would use to vamp and camp until the cows come home (or until the audience goes home). There are tasty elements of vampery and campery in Ms. LuPone’s performance in “Shows for Days,” which depicts the sentimental education of a 14-year-old boy (the appealing Michael Urie) in the mahvelous world of the theatuh. Yet she also locates a molten core of anger — and honor — in Irene’s affectations. This small-time tyrant may be a bulldozer wrapped in gold lamé. (And there is real gold lamé on hand, courtesy of William Ivey Long’s spot-on bourgeois-gone-bohemian costumes.) But as anyone knows who saw Ms. LuPone as Momma Rose in “Gypsy,” this actress does bulldozers with many gears. And she finds something genuinely and affectingly credible in a play that often taxes credibility.



Happy Days

June 29, 2015: The wattage of Winnie’s smile is what makes it so disconcerting — that and the way it lights up her eyes as she chatters on, her willful cheer sparkling in the sun like the diamonds that glint from her earlobes. A girlish romantic in a lacy, low-cut top, she is a middle-aged remnant of the coquette she once was. Now she’s buried up to her sternum in a mound of packed earth, and her husband, Willie, the grimy fellow scrabbling around behind her on hands and knees, is nearly feral. Events, clearly, have overtaken them. “Not the crawler you were, poor darling,” she says fondly as he struggles, and it amplifies the comedy to know that Brooke Adams, who plays Winnie, has been married for decades to Tony Shalhoub, who plays Willie. “No, not the crawler I gave my heart to.” Andrei Belgrader, that specialist in star-spangled classics, has brought his production of Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days” to the Flea Theater, and there are laughs to be had. What’s missing, or was on Saturday afternoon, is the darkness and dread that trigger Winnie’s natterings: the panic she’s trying so desperately to keep at bay.




June 28, 2015: In the past several years, whales have returned to New York Harbor, breaching and blowing in sight of the city skyline. And these leviathans now drive much of the action of “SeaWife,” a folk musical produced by Naked Angels and performed at the Melville Gallery of the South Street Seaport Museum. “SeaWife,” scripted by Seth Moore and the band the Lobbyists, is a doleful fairy tale ornamented with occasional puppets and agreeable chanteys, performed by the cast of six and one borrowed cellist. Set sometime in the 19th century, the story centers on Percy, a whaler’s son, “who saw his first boat at birth and had his sea legs before his first steps.” Though sickened at first by the blood and brutality of whaling, a series of tragedies transform Percy into a deadly harpooner until the sea calls him home again. The director Liz Carlson, the set designer Jason Sherwood and the lighting designer Jake DeGroot have converted the Melville Gallery into various ports and boats and taverns with the aid of ropes and nets and lanterns set with flickering bulbs. (On one rainy night, a leaking roof provided authentic puddles.) There’s also a bar that sells a $5 shot of rum or a can of I.P.A.



Men on Boats

June 23, 2015: If summer has you hankering for fitness-testing excursions through the dangerous outdoors, you will surely want to spend time with the hearty title characters of “Men on Boats,” who are churning up bright clouds of testosterone hovering over the Wild Project in the East Village. The inhabitants of this rollicking history pageant by Jaclyn Backhaus, which opened on Monday night as the final offering of Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks festival of new plays, are fellows who are always up for shooting the rapids, the breeze and edible wildlife. They hail from the United States of the mid-19th century, when assertive, unquestioning masculinity was something that stood tall and unchallenged. Oh, and just so you know, there isn’t a man in the 10-member cast of “Men on Boats,” at least not according to the strict anatomical definition. On the other hand, as we have plenty of reason to think these days, gender can be as much matter of perception as of chromosomes. Long before Chastity Bono became a guy named Chaz and Bruce Jenner transformed into Caitlyn, stage performers were regularly changing their sexes, demonstrating the fluidness of the boundaries between male and female. Taboo-flouting drag shows have been a naughty staple of downtown New York theater for many a decade.


OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Wild Women of Planet Wongo

Wild Women of Planet Wongo

June 23, 2015: Bushwick, in Brooklyn, as it inches closer to being devoured by Williamsburg, can still look otherworldly in its more remote precincts. How appropriate then to find the quaint musical cum dance party “Wild Women of Planet Wongo” there on a desolate block at Brooklyn Fire Proof. Not to be confused with the Z-movie “Wild Women of Wongo,” from 1958, this spoof more recalls the seminal sci-fi cheese-fest “Cat-Women of the Moon,” from 1953. So familiar are the conventions of such films that regardless of whether you’ve seen them, you sense what you’re going to get here. Start with a Wongotini (vodka, Midori, tequila and lime juice), offered in the lobby bar. (I didn’t partake, but the reviews were good.) On TV screens, footage of Khrushchev, Apollo missions and President John F. Kennedy set the mood. Pass through a star-spangled hallway into a room with a sound console and multiple monitors, and there — as you stand, and drink, and dance (if you want) — is where the show happens.



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