Sunday, November 27, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Arthur Miller's An Enemy Of The People at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Arthur Miller's An Enemy Of The People at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

An Enemy Of The People
Written by Arthur Miller
Book Adapted Based On A Play by Henrik Johan Ibsen
Directed by David Dubin
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 11/27/16

When Dr. Thomas Stockmann, Chief Medical Officer of the Municipal Baths (the town's main source of revenue and economic development), discovers serious bacterial contamination in the waters there caused by toxic waste coming from his father-in-law's tannery, he expects to be hailed as a hero having prevented people from getting sick and saving the town's reputation. However, when it is discovered that building a waste disposal plant and a new water filtration system to correct the problem will cost three hundred thousand dollars, the closure of the spa for two years, and the issuance of a new municipal bond that will raise taxes on the town's citizens, an array of powerful political forces conspire to silence him. Should Dr. Stockmann stand by his convictions and his knowledge of the truth whatever the consequences to himself and his family or should he listen to his brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann (Chairman of the Board of the Municipal Baths Health Institute), who is encouraging him to retract his original alarmist statement in favor of a more modest one and a promise that the Board will address the contamination issue over time? Here seemingly upright citizens are prepared to compromise their morals and look the other way when their economic well-being, livelihood, and reputations are threatened (especially when business is humming and there is no unemployment in the town). They are prepared to attack the whistleblower and his family by all means necessary to hide, dilute and alter the truth for the sake of the community's perceived short-term, economic welfare. 

This is the basic plot of Arthur Miller's play, modernized and adapted based on Henrik Johan Ibsen's 1882 drama about a man's lonely battle to defend the truth against a powerful, yet misguided majority. Arthur Miller's An Enemy Of The People opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre on December 28, 1950, closing on January 27, 1951 after 36 performances. In this production, the action takes place in 1925 in a town in Maine, as opposed to one in Norway. The audience had nothing but good things to say about this intriguing, timely, relevant play. The issues addressed here are universal and relevant. Especially given the recent revelation regarding the lead contaminated water that was being delivered to citizens in Flint, Michigan and the failure of municipal officials there to spend the money that would have been necessary to treat the pipes with an anti-corrosive agent. As David Dubin, the Director, said in his Program Note, "Whether it is water contamination or climate change or evolution or whether or not the earth revolves around the sun, science is often at the center of controversy, often vilified by those with their own agendas. The thing about science, though, is that it doesn't care if you believe in it or not." Scientific results cannot be denied by majority vote and are not invalid because you don't want them to be true. Emboldened by the knowledge he is preventing people from being poisoned, Dr. Thomas Stockmann refuses to be silenced despite losing his job, being physically attacked, and being threatened with jail on trumped up charges. He is committed to speaking truth to power! 

Angelo DiBiase does a fine job as Dr. Thomas Stockmann, the idealistic, sometimes naive, medical doctor who believes in science. Dan Sheffield more than holds his own as Mayor Peter Stockmann. The two brothers engage in an epic battle in defense of what they think best. Dean Schildkraut is surprisingly effective as Aslaksen, the Chairman of the Property Owners Association, Publisher of The People's Daily Messenger (the local newspaper) and head of the local Temperance Society. Gail Merzer Behrens is quite believable as Mrs. Catherine Stockmann, the dutiful wife, and Ravi Tawney shines as Hovstad, an agitator who is Editor-in-Chief of the local newspaper and has an interest in seeing the current leaders of the town replaced with a more "liberal" administration. Unfortunately, I thought K.D. Guadagno engaged in a bit of theatrical overacting in her portrayal of Petra, Dr. Stockman's daughter, and Jules Jacobs, who played Morton Kiil (Dr. Stockman's father-in-law and owner of the tannery), forgot some of his lines causing long, awkward silences you could drive a truck through. The only other negative was the set. I have seen a number of productions at Studio Theatre Long Island and I am getting very tired of seeing the same old set, which barely gets rearranged or painted. It is time to hire a professional set designer who can develop new and relevant sets for each new production. The qualify of the productions at Studio Theatre Long Island demand it.

Some of my favorite quotations from this play include: "Every performer goes for the audience that applauds him most." (Mayor Peter Stockmann); "The original idea (for the spa) was his (Dr. Stockmann) but when it comes time to put things into action, it takes a different kind of man." (Mayor Peter Stockmann); "The Doctor is never happy unless he's challenging authority. Yet, in the guise of reform and justice, he leaves in his wake revolution and chaos. Without credible authority, you can't have government." (Mayor Peter Stockmann); "The world doesn't revolve around conviction. It revolves around money." (Mayor Peter Stockmann); "Without power, what good is truth." (Mrs. Catherine Stockmann); "There is so much injustice in the world, you just have to learn to live with it." (Mrs. Catherine Stockmann); "I'm against the age old lie that the majority is always right. Was the majority right when Jesus was chosen to be crucified?" (Dr. Thomas Stockmann); "Before many can know something, one must know it!" (Dr. Thomas Stockmann); and, on a more humorous note, "If a man goes out to fight for truth and freedom, he shouldn't wear his best clothes." (Dr. Thomas Stockmann).

On one level, the play is about how one man's bravery and self-respect can survive despite overwhelming odds. On another level, it is a criticism of the tyranny of the majority. Not only because the crowd can be riled up and manipulated but also because community leaders, who should be making wise decisions for the sake of the common good, make poor decisions because of self-interest. For example, the local newspaper doesn't publish the doctor's story about the contamination of the baths for fear it will lose subscribers when it becomes known they will need to pay a new tax in order to fix the problem, and the Mayor cannot propose any changes to the baths because he is afraid the public may find out he made a mistake when building them, and thus, oust him from office. Every imaginable threat is lodged against Dr. Thomas Stockmann by his brother, the newspaper, and his father-in-law to pressure him into moderating his position for the sake of the town and his family's future financial well-being. However, Dr. Stockmann not only continues to fight but also decides to stay in town. He and his daughter are fired from their respective jobs, no one from the town will use him as their doctor, the glazier will not visit his home to fix the glass windows that have been broken when rocks were thrown through them, his two sons have gotten into fights and must now be home schooled, he is being threatened with jail for conspiring with his father-in-law to buy up shares in the municipal baths (built by a corporation) at a reduced price, and he has no way to earn a living. When given the option of working within the corrupt system supported by the majority or defending the truth, he avows he would rather be "An Enemy of the People," the title assigned to him by a motion that passed at the Town Meeting held in his own home. I understand that Dr. Stockmann is incredibly angry and wants to keep fighting at all costs but at some point, I have to wonder whether he has abandoned all reason and is making decisions based on the irrationality of his own stubborn, naturally defiant personality.

An Enemy Of The People will leave you with a lot to think about. It is very entertaining and will keep you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what will happen next. It represents theater at its best! It plays through December 11, 2016 at Studio Theatre Long Island. For tickets ($25.00), call 631-226-8400 or visit www.studiotheatreli.com 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Mary Poppins at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Mary Poppins at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Mary Poppins
A Musical Based on the Stories of P.L. Travers & The Walt Disney Film
Original Music & Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman
Book by Julian Fellowes
New Songs & Additional Music & Lyrics by George Styles & Anthony Drewe
Co-Created by Cameron Mackintosh
Directed & Choreographed by Drew Humphrey
Musically Directed by Michael Hopewell
Scenic Design by Jason Simms
Costume & Wig Design by Kurt Alger
Lighting Design by Zach Blane
Sound Design by Laura Shubert
Props Design by Kristie Moschetta
The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport
250 Main Street
Northport, New York 11768
Reviewed 11/26/16

Here she comes to save the day! The east wind and mist indicate the arrival of Mary Poppins, the practically perfect Nanny who mysteriously arrives at the home of George and Winifred Banks in response to a ripped up letter setting forth the qualities the children, Jane and Michael, would like their new Nanny to possess. Despite the fact that Mary Poppins has answered an ad that was never placed and has no references, Mrs. Banks, out of need and insecurity ("all the best families don't require references"), hires Mary Poppins, who dictates what days she wants off, takes it upon herself to leave without notice, and makes it perfectly clear she "never explains anything." It appears to me that Mary Poppins, possibly an ageless, vain goddess with supernatural powers (Neleus' father Poseidon was a friend of hers and it is likely she was Bert's Nanny when he was younger) represents the fresh breeze of the 20th century that comes demolish the stale, strict gender roles of the Victorian era and to bring the Banks family closer together with the belief that if only you maintain your childlike innocence and spirit of adventure, anything can happen if you let it!

Bert, a jack of all trades ("they told me to be a success in life, I should learn a trade, so I learned all of them"), finds joy in all he does and, despite being an adult, he too can speak to animals. Both Mary & Bert agree that speaking to Mongrel dogs is the most difficult ("far too much slang"). They join Jane & Michael in the park where they imagine statues coming to life and visit with Mrs. Corry, who runs a shop where you can buy letters and words, in addition to gingerbread. Before Miss Andrew ("The Holy Terror") beat all childlike notions (such as his love of astronomy) out of his mind, little Georgie Banks would slip away and visit Mrs. Corry (who may be older than anyone in the world) specifically saving the gingerbread stars he bought from her. Criticized by Jane Banks for making up words (like "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"), Mrs. Corry responds, "where do you think words came from in the first place - someone had to make it up." Unfortunately, the strict Miss Andrew made George Banks, as well as the Bank President, the men they are today (not considered a good thing in this musical). Spending time with your family, treating your spouse as an equal partner in life, and showing your children love are valued higher in this play than simply making money and leaving domestic matters (like hiring a Nanny, doing charitable work, and entertaining) to your wife. In fact, the ultimate success, according to Mary Poppins, is helping the Banks family reach a point where a Nanny is no longer necessary or required. It is at that point she feels she needed to make her exit and "help" some other family in need.

Analisa Leaming makes the perfect Mary Poppins - self-assured, pretty, and confident. She brings brightness and light to the stage, which is the exact opposite of Miss Andrew, who represents the philosophy that if you spare the rod, you will spoil the child. Her potion of punishment is Brimstone and Treacle, while Mary Poppins' potion can taste like Strawberry Ice (or Rum Punch if you are an adult). Jane Blass is marvelously sinister and evil in the role, gliding along the stage and threatening to immediately send Michael Banks off to boarding school. The potion battle between the two of them is perfectly staged. Ms. Blass also shines as Mrs. Corry, giving her a chance to play someone good, as well as someone relatively "evil" in the same show. Luke Hawkins is a talented, charismatic actor who plays Bert with a strong stage presence every much Ms. Leaming's equal. The two of them carry the show with the help of a fine cast. Deserving of particular recognition is David Schmittou and Liz Pearce, who play George and Winifred Banks, respectively. They both bring substance and depth to their characters and you become emotionally engaged in their respective struggles. Linda Cameron is excellent as Mrs. Brill, and Danny Meglio puts in an exceptionally strong and impressive performance as Robertson Ay. Perhaps not getting the recognition he deserves, Charles Baran (recently crowned Prince Charles at the Beaux Arts Society's 110th Annual Beaux Arts Ball) plays Admiral Boom, the Park Keeper, Poseidon, and the Bank President. Each performance is so unique and so perfectly executed, you wouldn't know the same actor was playing all those parts unless you read the program. Mr. Baran makes a great contribution to the success of this production.

The two crowd-pleasing big production numbers are "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "Step In Time." The audience could not help themselves and clapped their hands in time with the music. Also impressive are "A Spoonful Of Sugar," "Precision And Order," "A Man Has Dreams," "Feed The Birds," "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "Let's Go Fly A Kite," and "Anything Can Happen." Some of the memorable lines from the show are when Robertson Ay said, "I want to be helpful" to which Mrs. Brill responds, "We'll, I'd like to be rich but the Good Lord thought otherwise."; When Mrs. Banks (who used to be an actress) finds out all those she invited to a party rsvp'd no, she asks Mrs. Brill if she chose the wrong day. Mrs. Brill responds, "No Ma'am. I think you chose the wrong people."; Both Mary Poppins tells Michael, and Mrs. Banks tells George, "Close your mouth. We are not a codfish."; and Mary Poppins who emphasizes "I never said I was fair. I said I was practically perfect" often enlightens people by reminding them, "In this - as in so many things, your information is faulty." In the end, Mary Poppins flies back into the heavens having taught the children to be less judgmental, to look past what they see, and to have respect for people, as well as inanimate objects.

If you can't get to 17 Cherry Tree Lane in London and Mary Poppins hasn't visited you lately, I highly recommend you go see her at The John Engeman Theater at Northport before December 31, 2016. Performances are Thursdays at 8:00 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Some Wednesday and Sunday evenings are available. Tickets are $76.00 on Saturday evenings, $71.00 all other performances and may be purchased by calling 631-261-2900 or by going online at www.engemantheater.com. And remember, if you only reach for the stars, you may get them, but if you reach for the heavens, you get the stars thrown in! 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Bobbie Horowitz Presents It's Just A Number! at The Metropolitan Room by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Bobbie Horowitz Presents It's Just A Number! at The Metropolitan Room was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Bobbie Horowitz Presents It's Just A Number!
Honoring Fran Handman
Musical Director: Paul Chamlin
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 11/14/16  

When I ran for Student Council as an undergraduate at New York University, the Election Committee declared me the winner but initially refused to publish the election vote totals because they were concerned the feelings of the losers might be hurt. I argued that since they stepped forward to participate in the election process, that they, and the voters, had the right to see the final vote tallies. As a result, they were published. Fast forward to school sports teams, where there are no longer winners and losers and everyone receives a participation trophy and unconditional praise for fear that their self-esteem will be damaged. Everyone is praised. Everyone is encouraged. The world becomes a "safe space" and theater audiences are now warned in advance of "trigger words" that might offend them. Some argue that this new generation of overprotected, sensitive, easily offended young people lack the fortitude and ability to handle the stresses and responsibilities of everyday life. Others would disagree.


The cabaret world is also divided into these two camps. The first group believes in critical analysis and that every performer, whatever their age, must perform on a professional level especially if the public is being charged to see their show. If a cabaret "star" forgets the lyrics to a song, sings off-key, or has an unprofessional stage presence and/or inappropriate patter, this group believes they should be called out on these mishaps. Constructive criticism helps everyone who is open to evaluating whether the commentary may be helpful to them. The second group believes a cabaret room is a "safe space" offering unconditional love and support to all performers whatever the quality of  their act. Every mistake is forgiven. Every performer receives enthusiastic applause and is told after the show how "wonderful" they were. Peace and love prevail. As the hostess, Bobbie Horowitz, said, "There is so much love in a cabaret room!" and it is her stated belief that "a musical can bring the world together." Of course, she also said during the show that "we all change as needed" giving the broad example that "black skin evolved because the sun was very bright in Africa."

Bobbie Horowitz Presents It's Just A Number! is A Special Series at The Metropolitan Room (that has been successfully running for two years) dedicated to honoring a person who after the age of 50 either began a new career or resumed a career. Tonight's honoree was Fran A. Handman, who at 92 years of  age still does volunteer grant-writing work for the Episcopal Actors' Guild. She continues to write musicals - five in the past ten years. She was a "floater" at The New York Times while learning the trade of writing musicals at the BMI workshop. Performing in her honor this particular evening were Megan Loughran, Deborah Stone, Warren Schein, John Koprowski, Wendy Ginsberg Scherl, Elaine S. George, Deb Armelino, and representing the younger generation, the very talented Jacob Storms, who Bobbie Horowitz, the 2016 MAC Award Winner for Best Emcee, described as "having star quality." 

On November 5, 2016, Bobbie Horowitz - songwriter, performer, producer - became a member of the Royal Family of the Beaux Arts Society, Inc. (founded in 1857) (www.BeauxArtsSociety.org) when she was designated Princess Barbara at the 110th Annual Beaux Arts Ball held at Terrace On The Park. Perhaps she will now change the name of her show from Bobbie Horowitz Presents to Princess Barbara Presents in the new year. One must give Bobbie Horowitz credit for featuring an eclectic mix of cabaret luminaries, some in the twilight of their career, and others who are just getting started. For past honorees and performers, and information on future shows, visit www.BobbieHorowitzProductions.com 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Terrence McNally's It's Only A Play at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Terrence McNally's It's Only A Play at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

It's Only A Play
Written by Terrence McNally
Directed by David Dubin
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 11/13/16

It's Only A Play was revised from an unsuccessful play entitled Broadway, Broadway, also written by Terrence McNally, that closed during tryouts in Philadelphia in 1978. The new, retitled version was first produced Off-Off Broadway by Manhattan Punch Line at the Actors & Directors Theatre in November 1982. The play was revived Off-Broadway by the Manhattan Theatre Club at its New York City Center Stage 1, with previews starting December 17, 1985 and running from January 11-26, 1986. Not content to let this play die a natural death, McNally wrote yet another revised version, which was produced by the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson at the Doolittle Theatre, Los Angeles, California in April 1992. McNally rewrote the play again and this production opened on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, in previews on August 28, 2014, officially opening on October 9, 2014. It transferred to the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on January 23, 2015 and ran through June 7, 2015. Now you have the opportunity to see it at Studio Theatre Long Island, where It's Only A Play runs through November 20, 2016. 

The plot involves a group of theatre insiders attending an opening night party for The Golden Egg, a play written by Peter Austin (Ed Huether) and produced by Julia Budder (Joanne Rispoli), a wealthy first-time Broadway producer. Many celebrities are present at the party but the "inner circle" have gathered together in a room in Budder's Manhattan Penthouse to await the reviews, especially the influential one expected to be published in The New York Times. Also in attendance are Frank Finger (George Ghossn), the "genius" British Director (and thief) who thinks he has been unduly praised and is hoping his directorial skills will be panned; Virginia Noyes (Janine Haire), the Leading Actress (and drug abuser) who hopes this play will signal her comeback; James Wicker (Scott Earle), the extremely effeminate gay actor (it is said Charles Nelson Reilly was more masculine - an inside joke since in the Los Angeles production, Reilly actually did play the part of James Wicker) who turned down the role of Leading Man in The Golden Egg since he thought the play his friend wrote "was a piece of shit"; Ira Drew (David Dubin), a Critic who secretly writes plays under a pseudonym; Gus P. Head (Nathaniel Portier), the illiterate, wannabe Broadway star from Kansas, who currently checks coats and hats; and Emma (RoseMarie Amato), a no-nonsense taxi driver who inexplicably announces the arrival of The New York Times and then plants herself on a couch and starts offering people her common sense advice.

If you were being kind, you could say the play features a number of interesting characters. But if you were being honest, you would more likely have to admit the play has no real point to it. Egotistic, needy, insecure people, desperate for recognition and approval, wait for a review. After being momentarily depressed by the negative nature of the review, they bounce back and plan to put on their next play in the same theatre. So what if the actors won't have the time to learn their lines - the show must go on! It is time for Terrence McNally to take this play out of circulation and burn all remaining copies of the script. Another major rewrite would be necessary for this play to become even mildly entertaining. There is hope. There was a reference to men sitting around in the basement of the theatre doing nothing but drinking and playing cards. When an inquiry was made, it was learned they were union stagehands and musicians mandatorily hired due to the terms of union contracts that require producers to hire a certain number of people, whether or not they are needed. More relevant and insightful writing could save this play but it would be more merciful just to take it out behind the barn and shoot it. 

In its current form, the play is trite and uninspired. It is full of hackneyed expressions such as when someone told Gus, "You are not in Kansas anymore." Really? Is that the best you can do, Mr. McNally? The aging actress Virginia Noyes is heard to say, "I stayed as young as I could for as long as I could." In the play, McNally reveals that Mr. Budder got "mugged in the restroom at Sardi's" (is that what he thinks will get a laugh from the audience?). Another "humorous" line is when he has Virginia knock previews by saying that only "nurses, nuns & nitwits" go to them. Emma, the cab driver, tells the insecure playwright that audiences just want to be told an interesting story that will allow them to escape from their everyday lives. She says to him, "Imagine we are kids sitting around a campfire - take us somewhere!"). Is this advice to be taken seriously? Is a New York City cab driver the new "playwright whisperer"? Finally, the name of the play comes from the following line spoken by one of the minor characters after observing all the madness and emotional ups and downs of the evening: "What is wrong with these people. After all, it's only a play."

All the actors do a fine job in their respective roles. In fact, it is the only reason I would recommend you see this production of It's Only A Play. The standout performer, in my view, is Ed Huether, a talented and charismatic actor who plays Peter Austin. Sunday matinees at Studio Theatre Long Island are also particularly pleasant due to the efforts of Arlene Meli, the House Manager, who offers attendees free coffee, tea, cakes and fruit prior to the show. The funniest line in the play is a derogatory reference to Long Island Theater, which "produces plays that have worn out their welcome in New York City, are performed by actors not talented enough to be hired for a show in Manhattan, and are seen by people who can't afford to buy a ticket for a Broadway show."  

You can catch It's Only A Play on Friday, November 18th at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, November 19th at 8:00 p.m., and on Sunday, November 20th at 2:30 p.m. for only $25.00 a ticket. You can buy them online at www.studiotheatreli.com or by calling 631-226-8400. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Theatre By The Bay's production of My Fair Lady at Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Theatre By The Bay's production of My Fair Lady at the Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

My Fair Lady
Book & Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Adapted from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion
Choreographer & Director: Ovi Vargas
Costumer: Chery Manniello
Musical Director: Alan Baboff
Theatre By The Bay
Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center
13-00 209th Street
Bayside, New York 11360
Reviewed 11/12/16

My Fair Lady, the musical, was adapted from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (set in 1912), which premiered in German at the Hofburg Theatre in Vienna on October 16, 1913 and at the German-language Irving Place Theatre in New York City on March 24, 1914. Pygmalion opened in London on April 11, 1914 at Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree's His Majesty's Theatre where it ran for 118 performances. That production featured all the characters we are introduced to in the musical including Professor Henry Higgins, Colonel Pickering, Eliza Doolittle, Alfred P. Doolittle, Mrs. Pearce, Mrs. Higgins, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, and Mrs. Eynford-Hill. Transformed into a musical, My Fair Lady opened on Broadway on March 15, 1956 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. The musical's script used several scenes that Shaw had written especially for the 1938 film version of Pygmalion, including the Embassy Ball sequence. It transferred to the Broadhurst Theatre, and then The Broadway Theatre, where it closed on September 29, 1962 after 2,717 performances, a record at the time. The original Broadway production won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Rex Harrison), Best Direction of a Musical (Moss Hart), Best Scenic Design (Oliver Smith), Best Costume Design (Cecil Beaton), and Best Conductor & Musical Director (Franz Allers).

The first Broadway revival opened at the St. James Theatre on March 25, 1976 where it ran through December 5, 1976 before transferring to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, closing on February 20, 1977 after a total of 7 previews and 377 performances. George Rose won a Tony Award for his performance as Alfred P. Doolittle. Another Broadway revival opened at the Uris Theatre on August 18, 1981, closing on November 29, 1981 after 4 previews and 120 performances. A new revival opened at the Virginia Theatre on December 9, 1993, closing on May 1, 1994 after 16 previews and 165 performances. In 2007, the New York Philharmonic performed a full-costume concert presentation of the musical. The concert had a four-day engagement lasting from March 7-10 at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall starring Kelsey Grammer as Professor Henry Higgins and Kelli O'Hara as Eliza Doolittle.

If you are over a certain age and have participated in the American cultural experience over the past five or six decades, you will know all the songs featured in this musical such as Why Can't The English, Wouldn't It Be Loverly, With A Little Bit Of Luck, I'm An Ordinary Man, Just You Wait, The Rain In Spain, I Could Have Danced All Night, Ascot Gavotte, On The Street Where You Live, You Did It, Show Me, Get Me To The Church On Time, A Hymn To Him, Without You, and I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face. I am most certain every audience member knows the story of how Phonetics Professor Henry Higgins accepted a challenge that he couldn't successfully tutor Eliza Doolittle, a Covent Garden flower peddler, to speak English properly in order to pass her off as a Lady at the annual Embassy Ball within a six-month period. Eliza starts out hoping to speak more gentile-like so she can get a job in a flower shop but as time passes, she becomes concerned about her future and wonders what will become of her. Prof. Higgins' "project" starts to speak her mind and express opinions.  

My Fair Lady is one of the most popular musicals ever written. What you need to know is whether Theatre By The Bay's production of that show is worth seeing. To that question, I answer unequivocally yes and strongly encourage you to attend. Frank Josephs gives his all to the part of Prof. Henry Higgins and fully succeeds in presenting the complexities of that character. His performance is a crowning achievement people will remember for many years. Michele Linder does a fine job portraying Eliza Doolittle both as a lower-class flower girl and as a woman posing as a lady. If only it were true that the main difference between lower-class and upper-class people was their manner of speech. In any case, the willingness of Eliza to engage in "the new small talk" attracts the attention and romantic interests of Freddy Eynsford-Hill, implied to be a timid, faint-hearted gentleman whose family is eking out a living in genteel poverty (as indicated by his inability to hail a cab for his mother and sister and by the fact that Eliza says she'd need to find a way to financially support Freddy should she decide to marry him).

A shining star in this production is Sam Hunt, who plays Alfred P. Doolittle. He has the energy and talent to play Eliza's father with confidence and enthusiasm. He makes a major contribution to this production in every scene in which he appears, whether it is selling his daughter to Professor Higgins for five pounds, or complaining when an unexpected inheritance forces him to become a respectable member of the Middle Class. Mark Solkoff is perfectly sleazy as Zoltan Carpathy, the dreadful Hungarian phoneticist, who uses his expertise to help and then blackmail his students ("I help them deceive but I make them all pay through the nose!"). My only complaint is that Mr. Solkoff didn't have more lines to perform.

Three additional performances are worthy of note. The first is Ruthe McKeown's portrayal of Mrs. Pearce, the Housekeeper, as a strong woman who makes sure Eliza Doolittle is to be properly treated and that a plan will be in place to take care of her after the "tutoring sessions" end. John Canning succeeded in the role of Colonel Pickering, who inexplicably bet against Higgins' ability to transform Eliza. It appears he did so solely for amusement and because he was intrigued by the implications of such an endeavor. Finally, Lila Edelkind does a fine job as Mrs. Higgins. The remainder of the ethnically diverse supporting cast performed well but not anywhere near the level of professionalism and talent exhibited by the actors who played the main roles. My compliments to Chery Manniello for the costume choices on display during the Ensemble's presentation of the Gavotte at Ascot.

This production of My Fair Lady is absolutely delightful and wonderfully entertaining. This musical is a masterpiece of musical comedy with serious reflections on societal subcultures and the ever-changing gender dynamics that characterize the relationship between men and women. You have two more opportunities to see Theatre By The Bay's production of My Fair Lady on Sunday, November 20, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $22.00 for adults and $20.00 for seniors over 62 and children under 12. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.theatrebythebayny.com/ or call 718-428-6363. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of The 39 Steps at The Gallery Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The 39 Steps at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The 39 Steps
Directed by Mark Gallagher
Starring Allister Austin, Amanda Baxter,
Whit Leyenberger & Kayla Ryan Walsh
The Gallery Players 
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 11/3/16

The 39 Steps is a parody of the 1935 film made by Alfred Hitchcock, which was loosely based on the 1915 novel written by John Buchan. The original concept and production of a four-actor version of the story, which premiered in 1995 at the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, North Yorkshire (England), was the inspiration of Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon. Patrick Barlow rewrote the script in 2005, keeping the scenes and staging. This readaptation premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and was eventually transferred to the Criterion Theatre in London's West End where it played for nine years (closing on September 5, 2015) making it the fifth longest running play in West End history. The play first opened in the United States at the Boston University Theatre (produced by the Huntington Theatre Company) on September 19, 2007. Billed as Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, it transferred to the Cort Theatre on April 28, 2008, and eventually to the Helen Hayes Theatre on January 21, 2009 where it closed on January 10, 2010 after 771 performances. It opened Off-Broadway at New World Stages on March 25, 2010. The Broadway production won two Tony Awards for Best Lighting Design and Best Sound Design.

The play contains 33 scenes performed during two acts. All the actors in this production are extremely talented. Alister Austin does a fine job playing Richard Hannay, the bored 37-year old, who is excited about being caught up in the intrigue that allows him to be of service to King and Country. Amanda Baxter shows amazing versatility portraying three women with distinct personalities (Annabella Schmidt, Pamela & Margaret) with whom Hannay has romantic flirtations. Whit Leyenberger and Kayla Ryan Walsh play Clown 1 and Clown 2. Both successfully depict scores of different people at dizzying speed. My two favorites were the roles performed in drag: Ms. Walsh playing Prof. Jordan, the male Nazi spy, and Mr. Leyenberger pulling off Mrs. McGarigle, the sexually adventurous hostess of The McGarigle Hotel. While all the actors contributed equally to the high quality of this production, the standout performer, in my opinion, was Whit Leyenberger. Whether playing a poor, jealous Scottish crofter or a large baby in diapers, his extraordinary talent, and charismatic stage presence, made every scene he was in just a little better than it might have been otherwise. For example, when he and Ms. Walsh were playing ladies' underwear salesmen sharing a train compartment with Mr. Hannay, who was recently accused of murder, both actors used every opportunity provided by the small space to touch the strikingly handsome Richard Hannay in every way possible. It was absolutely hilarious but Whit Leyenberger went that extra step further when he backed up pressing his backside into Mr. Hanney's crossed knee. Brilliant!

The plot is very much the same as it was in the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie. The Thirty-Nine Steps, an organization of German spies headed by Prof. Jordan who is missing the top joint of his right pinky finger, has stolen information vital to Britain's air defense (i.e. the design for a silent aircraft engine). Annabella Schmidt is killed for trying to stop him but not before she reveals part of what she knows to Richard Hannay, who is accused of her murder. He takes the express train to Alt-na-Shellach in Scotland. He is betrayed by a woman (twice), jumps from a train, spends a night in a barn, gives a political speech, is shot by the villain who's bullet is stopped by a crofter's hymn book, escapes from the police, and returns to the London Palladium just in time to foil the enemy's plans by figuring out how Prof. Jordan intends to get the information out of the country. Mr. Memory is asked, "What are the 39 Steps?" and just before he is shot dead by Prof. Jordan, he answers, "The 39 Steps is an organization of spies, collecting information on behalf of the Foreign Office of..." We never find out why the spy cell calls itself by that name nor who Annabella Schmidt intended to meet in Scotland in her efforts to stop Prof. Jordan. In the end, as you might expect would take place in a 1930s film, Richard Hannay and Pamela fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after.

To add some background and insight to help you better enjoy this play, I should mention the original adventure novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps, written in 1915 by John Buchan was the first of five novels featuring Richard Hannay, an all-action hero with a stiff upper lip and a miraculous knack for getting himself out of sticky situations. Mr. Buchan described the book as a "shocker" by which he meant the events in the story are unlikely and the reader is only just able to believe they really happened. In the book, the ring of German spies is called The Black Stone. The mysterious phrase "Thirty-Nine Steps" first mentioned by the character Franklin Scudder (Annabella Schmidt's predecessor) in the book holds the key to determining how The Black Stone intends to get the stolen secret information out of England. Hannay eventually realizes the phrase "the thirty-nine steps" could refer to the landing point in England from which the spy is about to set sail. With the help of British military leaders and a knowledgeable Coastguard, they eventually figure out the spy is leaving on a boat from a coastal town in Kent where you would find a path down to the beach from a cliff that has thirty-nine steps. According to John Buchan's son, William, the name of the book originated when the author's daughter was counting the stairs at a private nursing home in Broadstairs, where Buchan was convalescing ill in bed with a duodenal ulcer. He wrote, "There was a wooden staircase leading down to the beach. My sister, who was about six, and who had just learnt to count properly, went down them and gleefully announced: there are 39 steps." Sometimes later, the house was demolished and a section of the stairs, complete with a brass plaque, was sent to Buchan.

The 39 Steps may not be everyone's cup of tea. There are times when the plot is absolutely ridiculous and tedious, as when Mr. Hannay is trying to keep the blinds down in his flat. There are also some performances that are annoyingly overacted, such as Amanda Baxter's portrayal of Annabella Schmidt. Kayla Ryan Walsh's sexually suggestive tongue action when playing Prof. Jordan was just weird and out of place. That having been said, there are also moments of brilliance and hilarity throughout the play. Many, in fact, that will amaze you! It is hard for me to predict your reaction. One audience member in the front row fell asleep after a few minutes and snored through the entire show. Others offered up enthusiastic applause for the excellent cast, who gave it their all. If you have seen The 39 Steps before and liked it, you will not be disappointed with this production. If you haven't seen it, this is a perfect opportunity to see a high-quality presentation of this classic for a very reasonable price. My favorite line in the play was when the Sheriff said to Mr. Hannay, "You shut your mouth when you're talking to me!"

You can catch The 39 Steps at The Gallery Players through November 13, 2016. Tickets are $25.00 for adults and $20.00 for seniors and children. To purchase tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.galleryplayers.com 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Dandy Darkly's Myth Mouth! at Under St. Mark's Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Dandy Darkly's Myth Mouth! at Under St. Mark's Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Dandy Darkly's Myth Mouth!
Written by Neil Arthur James
Performed as Dandy Darkly
Directed by Ian Bjorklund
Original Music by Adam Tendler, 
Rachel Blumberg & Bryce Edwards
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 10/14/16  

Dandy Darkly is a colorful, outrageous, performance artist with an incredible talent for telling dark tales using wordplay, alliteration, and a sophisticated soundtrack. His captivating presence commands your attention as this storyteller brings you on journeys through time and space. He surprises his audience by appearing on stage as a "killer clown" only to reveal he is really only a "performance art clown." Dressed in bejeweled shoes and a white Lycra bodysuit revealing his ample frame and abundant chest hair, Dandy Darkly literally brightens up the stage with his miniature white top hat adorned with lights. His constantly shifting, pointed shoulder pads (which he often needed to adjust), could poke someone's eye out, while his untucked protuberance (often referenced and grabbed) wasn't prominent enough to pose the same risk. His facial makeup perfectly matched his costume and helped introduce us to the myth-revealing Queer Nancy boy scheduled to take us on an intriguing journey into the past and future with pit stops on Earth and Mars (during life and in the afterlife) as we encounter well-meaning alien cats, patriotic dogs, flying space pyramids, a virtual reality character, a professor of anthropology, a Geisha android, Persephone, and Cha Cha, the first "artist" on the planet.

Cha Cha was a caveman of slight frame, unlike his well-built, sloth-hunting brethren. You could view Cha Cha as a Neanderthal, Stone Age sissy boy who was often beaten up and bullied. He suffered many broken bones and had to find a way to survive. He eventually realized if he created shadow creatures around the campfire (while telling hilarious stories - "All hail sloth slayer!" that made the alpha males laugh), they would throw him their sloth-meat scraps. As a result, Cha Cha was the world's first Jester and Mythmaker who single-handedly invented dinner theater. For inspiration, he started using psychedelic mushrooms, marijuana, and cocaine. To keep things fresh, he even discovered and wore a tiny Pope-hat (not unlike Dandy Darkly) after which he no longer only humorized, but also sermonized. Eventually, he was replaced by someone younger and hungrier who was waiting in the wings. In Cha Cha's case, that performer was Cher Cher. Down and almost out (snorting cocaine almost non-stop), he tried putting on a Comeback Show, which was a total flop. Cha Cha knew the show was not well-received when dung was flung at him while he performed on stage. The surly sentiment stunned Cha Cha and he wandered away into the wilderness prepared to accept his own death - and so went the career of the world's first artist.

Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, wife of Hades (the god-king of The Underworld) had a troubled life. Her own father displayed himself to her as "a fucking swan and bird-fucked her." Traumatized by the incest, she became a pernicious party girl and a persistent whore. Finding herself "Slut-Shamed by The Real Housewives of Olympus" and seeing that the male gods were often more sexually attracted to young men with "magic swords and firm butt cheeks," she was ambivalent when Hades "kidnapped her to Hell" to make her his bride and Empress of The Underworld. How ironic that Persephone, goddess of spring and of flowers, eventually flourished in the dark, especially when she discovered Hades enjoyed being a submissive masochist. How better for Persephone to work out her anger towards men and to find true happiness. She eventually came to view The Underworld as her home. 

Laika was the first animal launched into orbit (in 1957 aboard Sputnik 2) by the U.S.S.R. paving the way for human spaceflight. She was a puppy who had faith. Laika hated cats her entire life and was taught that cats were in league with America. There was even a rumor there was a Cat Cafe in Area 51 where "pussies and pastries" were linked for the first time. In space, she came across flying pyramids (that landed in ancient Egypt) piloted by cats. She learned the cats were aliens from Mars and eventually came to realize "the cats were on a mission of mercy to end the cold war by bringing with them blankets and hot chocolate" (cats are very literal creatures). Confused at first with the new knowledge that "cats were the good guys," Laika's dogged determination caused her to crash her spacecraft directly into the cat's flying pyramid causing the destruction of both. Right to the end, Laika remained a puppy who had faith.

Dr. Gif Jeffries was a lonely Professor of Anthropology who became addicted to a virtual reality game and engaged in a virtual relationship with Hiro, his online buddy. They were hooked on Camp Horror Classics and specifically Final Girl, which starred America's Sweetheart. Dr. Jeffries had virtual dinner dates with Hiro. Eventually, fantasy and reality merged and Dr. Jeffries became so addicted to the virtual reality game, he feared his "implant would burst through his skin." His medical doctor said he needed to stop using the game because one more session might kill him. Dr. Jeffries took the advice and stopped logging into the virtual web. It is at that point the delusional Dr. Jeffries attempted to start a long distance relationship with Hiro, but Hiro (a virtual program) wouldn't meet him in real life. When America's Sweetheart died, Hiro contacted Dr. Jeffries with the message - "Help!" - and encouraged him to go to Fuji Technologies in Tokyo. He took  the next plane out and, upon arrival, was placed in a comfortable white lounge recliner chair. Wires and lasers came out of the head of a Geisha Android injecting him with her "virtual venom." He soon found himself sitting next to Hiro in the place they first met. Suspecting Hiro was not real, he plunged his thumbs into Hiro's eyes and nothing but black gook came pouring out. Dr. Jeffries realized Hiro was a virus placed into the game to get customers to buy Final Girl merchandise - to seduce, sell and entrap players until their bank accounts were bled dry. Dr. Jeffries wakes and imagines the room is on fire but when he focuses, he realizes what he saw were simply candles placed by mourners at a make-shift memorial for America's Sweetheart.

Back in the real world at an unspecified time and place, Dr. Jeffries explains to a seminar the recent discovery of Specimen #22, an ancient caveman of short stature which suggests that alpha males in his tribe limited that caveman's access to meat. A hat found near his body shows he was capable of symbolic thinking. Could this caveman be our very own Cha Cha, who left his tribe to embrace death when he could no longer make people laugh? Whatever became of this jester? Dandy Darkly offers one extraordinary, fantastic, surreal possibility. Perhaps Walt Whitman found him in the wilderness and invited him to Fancy, a popular afterlife retirement community on Mars where perpetual human creativity is embraced. While there, Cha Cha meets Liberace, Divine, and even Paul Lynde in the center square of a new game show entitled Dead Hollywood Queers hosted by Joan Crawford, the quiz show hostess. 

Dandy Darkly's Myth Mouth! is his fourth show in four years having been preceded by Dandy Darkly's Gory Hole!, Dandy Darkly's Pussy Panic!, and Dandy Darkly's Trigger Happy! This show even features some of the characters introduced to us in prior shows. There is an overarching link in this show connecting the stories to each other and to Dandy Darkly's costume choices, which is delightfully revealed throughout the show and especially during the high-energy, high-flying conclusion to this dazzling, hypnotic encounter presented to us by this master of myth. His flamboyance, brilliance, and talent are constantly on display. His compelling narratives and magnificent presence will take you to places you never thought you would go. Fasten Your Seatbelts! Seeing this show will provide you with an experience you will not soon forget and never inadvertently neglect to remember the most important rule - No Wire Hangers!

Dandy Darkly's Myth Mouth is dedicated to anyone struggling with addiction. He hopes they come to embrace a higher power - called laughter! The show runs until Tuesday, October 25, 2016 at Under St. Mark's Theater. Tickets cost $20.00. For more information, visit www.horsetrade.info