Photo: Credit Johan Persson/Disney

Show REVIEW: Shakespeare in Love: The Play (London)

Shakespeare in Love: The Play

July 23, 2014: Many people, it must be said, prefer the idea of Shakespeare’s plays to the reality of them. Whether they admit it or not, such souls feel that Shakespeare is great for seasoning but indigestible as a main course. They’re often the ones you hear promiscuously peppering their conversation with the canon’s best-known lines or speaking of failed politicians as “truly Shakespearean.” The play that opened on Wednesday night at the Noël Coward Theater here seems to have been created expressly with this audience in mind. It is called Shakespeare in Love: The Play, and it might best be described as Shakespeare-flavored, in the way that some soft drinks are advertised as fruit-flavored. Like many such beverages, this show is moderately fizzy and leaves a slightly synthetic aftertaste. Staged by the inventive team of Declan Donnellan (director) and Nick Ormerod (designer), Shakespeare in Love has been adapted from the 1998 movie of that title. Featuring a screenplay by Marc Norman and that most fashionable of cerebral dramatists, Tom Stoppard — with a plot that pondered the sexual and writing habits of the most celebrated playwright ever, and a cast that included Dame Judi Dench, if you please, as Elizabeth I — the film brimmed with class and cachet.



OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Pianist of Willesden Lane

The Pianist of Willesden Lane

July 23, 2014: Playing your mom onstage would be a challenge for even a seasoned actress. Playing your mom at 14? Yikes! So it’s all the more remarkable that Mona Golabek, who is undertaking this feat in The Pianist of Willesden Lane, seems to slip so effortlessly into the persona of her mother, the pianist Lisa Jura, during her tumultuous adolescence in Vienna and London. For Ms. Golabek is not a trained actress, but a concert pianist herself. In this deeply affecting memoir-once-removed, adapted and directed by Hershey Felder, and based on a book by Ms. Golabek and Lee Cohen, Ms. Golabek tells the story of her mother’s youth during World War II in her mother’s voice. Underpinning the story are selections from the classical piano repertoire — Bach and Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninoff — which Ms. Golabek performs on the Steinway grand piano that gleams on a gilt-edged platform at center stage and is her sole co-star. After introducing herself, Ms. Golabek glides to the piano and plays a few bars from the Grieg Piano Concerto, as the sound of a recorded orchestra swells behind her. “My name is Lisa Jura, and I’m 14 years old,” she says, her voice taking on a girlish lilt and a slight accent. “It’s Vienna, 1938, and it’s a Friday afternoon. I’m preparing for the most important hour of my week — my piano lesson.” But this week the lesson will not take place. After Lisa makes it past the German soldier with the rifle at the front door, her beloved instructor tells her he has been forbidden to teach Jewish students. “I’m not a brave man,” he says, and bids her goodbye.




July 23, 2014: For the urban eavesdropper, paradise is a place where it’s almost impossible not to overhear human drama unfolding: a park bench, a subway car, a quiet cafe. But in purgatory — a crowded nightclub, say — the roar of sound makes pantomime of strangers’ conversations. So, best of luck listening in on the many intimate one-acts that make up Play/Date, a clever and frustrating show that ponders connection and disconnection through the lens of bar-scene dating and technology. Conceived by Blake McCarty, directed and designed by Michael Counts and written by 17 playwrights, it’s staged on three levels of Fat Baby, a Lower East Side lounge. Mr. McCarty and Mr. Counts produced the show with Mr. Counts’s wife, Sharon, in collaboration with the theater company 3-Legged Dog. Intended as an immersive adventure, Play/Date is instead an obstacle-strewed exercise in thwarted acoustics, though that’s not entirely the fault of the sound designer, Marcelo Añez. Look at the space: hard surfaces everywhere, one level flowing airily into the next, no walls between them. Music plays throughout, a soundtrack to the din of the drinking, chatting, milling crowd that is the audience. Multiple plays are performed simultaneously, all contributing to, and some succumbing to, the sound bleed. Actors wear headset microphones, but even so, they may be inaudible from no more than a few feet away. Women’s voices, especially, tend to dissipate.



Drop Dead Perfect

July 22, 2014: In a sweet 1950s peach crocheted dress and matching bolero, Everett Quinton has never looked lovelier. As Idris Seabright, a lonely and overwrought spinster growing old in the Florida Keys, he laments a storm having wreaked “havoc on my African hibiscus — and my poor bougainvillea,” hitting each syllable with that posh Eastern accent that 1930s actresses favored. When a chord of ominous movie music plays, Idris strikes a terrified pose, and we could easily be downtown at the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, where Mr. Quinton and Charles Ludlam starred in the original The Mystery of Irma Vep 30 years ago. Mr. Quinton is a genius. It is absolute rapture to see him in his element in Drop Dead Perfect, a Pecadillo Theater Company production at the Theater at St. Clement’s that originated at Penguin Rep in Rockland County. Drop Dead Perfect has abundant plot. Vivien (Jason Edward Cook), an orphan with artistic talent and a leg brace (“Vivien, you’re a cripple,” Idris snaps), wants to study in New York. The family lawyer, Phineas Fenn (Michael Keyloun), supplies Idris with suspicious pills. A young Cuban, Ricardo (Jason Cruz), pays a visit, setting libidos aflutter. Idris keeps changing her will. And when she’s painting her still lifes, her subjects’ tendency to move annoys her so intensely that she may do something — ominous chord (sound design by William Neal) — horrible.



Piece of My Heart

July 21, 2014: “Does it bother you that your songs are everywhere but you aren’t?” the beautiful dancer asks, lounging in the handsome songwriter’s bed. “No one ever knows who writes the songs, right? Just who sings ’em.” Filling that gap in our rock ’n’ roll awareness is the mission behind the gorgeously tuneful, new jukebox musical Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story — and if your first response to that title is “Bert who?,” well, that’s exactly the point. But if, somewhere in your head, Janis Joplin just ripped into “Piece of My Heart,” you already know Berns’s music.  When Bert Berns died at 38 in 1967, he left a voluminous catalog, and Piece of My Heart — presented by Merged Work Productions at the Pershing Square Signature Center — taps it expertly. “Twist and Shout,” “I Want Candy,” “Hang on Sloopy” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” are among the many familiar songs that the show’s stellar singers and splendid eight-piece orchestra may lodge in your brain.


OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Clinton The Musical

Clinton The Musical

July 21, 2014: The folks behind Clinton: The Musical are said to have invited the former first couple to attend a performance of what is coyly called a spoof of their eight years in the White House. Note to the box office: They’re not likely to show up at the will call window. Nor, for that matter, are Newt Gingrich or Dick Morris, Monica Lewinsky or Kenneth Starr. Especially Kenneth Starr. Written by Paul and Michael Hodge, brothers from Australia, Clinton was first presented at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe two years ago and then had a run in London. Now part of the New York Musical Theater Festival, the show reduces the Clinton years to a stew of sex farce and hypocrisy, in keeping with the timeworn theme that politics is just show business for ugly people. Clinton: The Musical is an equal-opportunity defamer: The president is both policy-driven technocrat and sax-playing hound dog, so conflicted that he’s portrayed by two actors; the first lady is a pants-suited force of her own, a senator in waiting. (Al Gore is a cardboard cutout, literally.) Even before they fight to save their legacy after the president’s affair with an amorous Monica, they must battle a power-mad Newt, a kinky Ken and a complicit, salacious press.



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