Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Sir Century & The Starling Darling at Under St. Mark's Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Sir Century & The Starling Darling 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!

Sir Century & The Starling Darling
Music & Story by Eisley Constantine
Directed by Took Edalow
Produced by Manchado
Quality Control by Henry Black
Super Staging by Nick Balls
Conceptual Aid by Jackson Sturkey
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 5/23/16  

Sir Century & The Starling Darling, an Emo Indie Glam Pop Musical From Future Space, recently debuted on March 23, 2016 at The Bitter End. This Alternative Rock Space Musical, which takes place in the year 2345, was performed at Under St. Mark's Theater on May 23, 2016 to an audience so large people were sitting on steps, two rows of added folding chairs, and still that wasn't enough room to fit in the additional attendees, many of whom had to stand. The price of admission was $12.00 but a $3.00 discount was given at the door to anyone who wore "outlandish" space make-up, and many did! I enjoyed the songs presented in this musical that were performed live between scenes. The musical itself was interesting, innovative and entertaining. Many of the costumes were creative and clever. The Starling Darling, Sir Century's space ship, was nothing more than a broom wrapped in tin foil. When traveling together, Sir Century, from New Rome, and Prince Jerkbard, from Planet Desert, would shove the broom handle in between each other's legs to get that special lift that sent them soaring through space and feeling that special power.

While the story line needs some work, there were some interesting observations made about where we may be as a society in 300+ years. Supposedly, we are living longer. Hundreds of years longer according to this musical. But instead of using those years productively, gender ambiguous "nubile" young men are just spending more time at Space University earning their worthless bachelors' degrees. Sir Century, now 137 years old, spent 120 years of his life in college, where he dated Miss Millennia and spent the Stellar Solstice together with her. Now graduated, he has returned to his home planet to work for Roxo O'Donnell, a Commentator in the Conservative Command Center of Prop News (a parody of Fox News), a station committed to making certain the public "gets the information they want." Earth has been colonized by New Rome and Humans, including Doctor Decade, are denigrated for having "blank skin" - not painted or pierced in the fashion of the other alien members of interstellar society. Humans, now an oppressed and criticized galactic minority, have ceased making scientific advancements. Doctor Decade gave Sir Century the last great invention of his people, a 3-D printer with telepathic nodes attached to the processor that will make whatever you want using nothing but the atoms in the surrounding air.

The story is quite familiar. Miss Millennia breaks up with Sir Century because he isn't paying enough attention to her. Even the promise of a nice vacation on Europa isn't enough for her. She then begins to date Prince Jerkbard (women always prefer "jerks" over nice guys) of Planet Desert (where they still blow up children's nurseries and fruit factories). Sir Century gets jealous not knowing that his rival is Prince Jerkbard, his traveling companion, who tries to get him killed by mentioning where he works while they are visiting the Denzar Collective, an extreme socialistic commune, where everyone has blended their individual identities into a "single consciousness." Sir Century also visits a planet of Flower Children but during his exploration of the people living in "the 3rd galaxy," he doesn't come close to seeing many of the cultures who speak the 173 million languages spoken in the explored universe. In the end, Miss Millennia returns to him. The audience is given a choice whether Sir Century should be allowed to live or die a martyr. The overwhelming choice of the audience was to let Sir Century die but Jackson Sturkey, who played The Narrator, announced Sir Century would be permitted to live.

In this confusing and complex world, Sir Century was unable to decide who was right and who was wrong. After all his exploration and soul searching, he concluded that perhaps "there is no right and wrong - just differing opinions." He also realized that "no one has all the answers" and that "you shouldn't let anyone pretend they know more than you do." While we one day may be soaring in space, we'd do well to remind ourselves that we are still just infants, born blind but struggling for knowledge with the desire to make sense of the world around us. The one thing everyone in the cast could agree on is that "space is cool" and that they hope Sir Century & The Starling Darling is "destined to be immortalized as a future indie rock inspired science fiction spectacular."

The standout performer in this production was Jackson Sturkey, who played the Narrator, Doctor Decade and Bohemia Bill. Took Edalow was also essential to making this musical a success in her role as Miss Millennia and Eisley Constantine's music was well-featured leaving me eager to hear more. For more information about Sir Century & The Starling Darling, visit http://www.sircentury.com/ 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Jinkx Monsoon in Jinkx Sings Everything! at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Stark Wilz

This review of Jinkx Monsoon in Jinkx Sings Everything! at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Stark Wilz and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Jinkx Sings Everything!
Written & Performed by Jinkx Monsoon (Jerick Hoffer)
Musical Director: Joshua Stephen Kartes
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 5/21/16  

I remember seeing Jinkx Monsoon on Season 5 of Ru Paul's Drag Race. I rooted for her and was very pleased she won. I attended this performance of Jinkx Sings Everything! as someone's guest so I was doubly pleased to be there to enjoy what I anticipated would be a great show at the remarkable price of contributing $5.00  towards the tip. When Jinkx Monsoon first appeared on stage, I liked that she had on a very minimalist black tunic-style dress with black panty hose; her make-up was also relatively modest and classy (not your typical over-the-top, exaggerated choices favored by most Drag Queens). It indicated to me that her focus was going to be completely on the songs which she would actually sing instead of lip-sync. She didn't have any costume changes, no backup dancers, no window dressing. I felt certain her performance would be excellent.

Unfortunately, she disappointed. She started the show by explaining "the rules" -- basically saying she'd take requests and therefore should be forgiven if she had occasional mix-ups concerning her memory and the songs' lyrics and melodies. She pointed out that her pianist was incredible and had a perfect memory and would help her get on track if any mistakes occurred. Unfortunately for Jinkx, her amazing pianist could not protect her from massive lapses in memory and voice quality. I was stunned by the number of "flub-ups" that Jinx suffered. It was also noteworthy that she didn't really take many requests -- she kept simply singing what she wanted, indicating that she was "in charge" and could sing whatever moved her. Contradicting herself further, she pointed out that many musicals (including classics such as The King & I and South Pacific and whole time periods such as the 1950s) were off-limits and she would exercise her discretion about which shows she would or wouldn't agree to sing from. It seemed very self-serving to me, and her boastful claim she'd take requests from the audience ended up being hollow and untrue.

She shouldn't have eaten the French fry early in the show, we can all agree on that - but whatever the case, you can't blame her amateurish performance on food stuck in her throat. In my experience, audiences do not like it when the performer apologizes for his or her mistakes and poor delivery; people who pay good money to watch a show do not want to hear rationalizations for problems with one's voice and so forth. Jinkx apologized and rationalized throughout her show. It made me uncomfortable. And worse, it served to compound the difficulties she was having hitting notes and remembering lyrics. Her constant clearing of her throat (very un-ladylike), gargling water and talking about the French fry only put emphasis on the performer's mistakes. It showed a lack of professionalism.

Of course, Jinkx's comedic sensibilities and talents were evident -- and I actually enjoyed the show on balance. But I would've felt differently if I had paid a $22.00 admission fee and been required to buy two expensive drinks to meet a required food/drink minimum purchase. I actually felt sorry for Jinkx. I'm pretty sure she was aware of how awful her performance was. I am sure she can deliver the goods and perhaps I caught her on an "off day." Nonetheless, consistency is one of the chief hallmarks of a "pro."

Applause! Applause! Review of Jinkx Monsoon in Jinkx Sings Everything! at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Jinkx Monsoon in Jinkx Sings Everything! at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Jinkx Sings Everything!
Written & Performed by Jinkx Monsoon (Jerick Hoffer)
Musical Director: Joshua Stephen Kartes
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 5/21/16  

Jinkx Monsoon walked away with the title of "America's Next Drag Superstar" on Season 5 of Ru Paul's Drag Race. She claims she was inspired to become a Drag Queen by watching two movies almost on a loop - Chicago (75% of the influence) and Death Become Her (25% of the influence). After appearing on the show, she toured the world for 7-8 months as the reigning Queen of Ru Paul's Drag Race. She was very upbeat regarding her future but now she is turning "jaded and bitter" because every year Ru Paul gives another 13-14 more Drag Queens a career and they then become her "sisters" - a/k/a competition. Jinkx's message to Ru Paul, "Thank you, but enough already!" It's no longer all "fun and frivolity."

Jinkx Sings Everything! was described as being "an entirely improvised show" where Jinkx promised to take requests from the audience. The problem was that, up front, she excluded musicals she did not like, as well as entire genres and decades she would not sing songs from. Just in case the audience didn't get the point, she re-emphasized that she "remains in charge" and is still going "to steer the ship" so she may refuse to sing any song she doesn't like and reserves the right to look at her cell phone if she forgot some lyrics. Given that she kept such a tight grip on the songs she sang, even recommending a number of songs to herself, it is amazing how many lyrics she forgot. Joshua Stephen Kartes, her extremely talented Musical Director (nicknamed "Wolf" because he looks like a little hairy dog who plays piano energetically), had trouble remaining in sync with Jinkx. The biggest problem, however, was with Jinkx's voice, which was often off-key. To her credit, Jinkx noticed this herself on at least three occasions during the show. She first said, "I am hitting the notes but there is this layer of sick that's just there." She later commented, "Something has built up in the back of my throat." Finally, she said, "It's hard when you are not lip syncing." To clear out her throat, Jinkx started downing alcoholic drinks offered to her by audience members, observing, "sure, why not mix drinks - let's see where the show goes now!" Her funniest line was a spontaneous one enabled by her quick wit. After drinking all those alcoholic beverages, she tripped over a chair on the way back to the stage. Her response, "I just tripped over an empty chair in my "sold out" show!"

Some of the songs she sang were "Broadway Baby", "All That Jazz", "White Rabbit", "Miss Baltimore Crabs", "Don't Do Sadness", "I'm Still Here", "The Worst Pies In London", "Maybe This Time", and "Origin Of Love". A number of the songs she sang were extremely entertaining. I truly enjoyed her rendition of "I'm Still Here" and her Cabaret medley. In addition, Jinkx Monsoon is a consummate performer and an extraordinary showman with a good sense of humor and a keen sense of how to interact with the audience to keep them engaged. She also knows how to recover from an embarrassing situation in order to turn it into something positive and entertaining. For example, embarrassed she had to look up song lyrics on her cell phone, she exclaimed that someone had sent "dick pics" to her phone. She also had a hilarious bit where she brought a seven-year-old boy on stage, who wanted her to sing "My Heart Belongs To Daddy." She complied, observing, "I remember being a size zero, you little bitch!" Jinkx Monsoon knows how to make people laugh. She performed in a very attractive short black dress and wore a red wig - both were simple, yet elegant!

Jinkx Monsoon is the alter ego of Jerick Hoffer, who graduated with a degree in theatrical performance from Cornish College in Seattle. With ten years experience on stage, Hoffer is a seasoned Portland-born entertainer. As early as 2006, he appeared as the lead dancer in the world's largest Drag Queen Chorus Line, which made the Guinness Book Of World Records. By 2012, he had advanced to roles in Seattle theaters, playing Moritz in Spring Awakening (produced by Balagan Theatre) and Angel in Rent (produced by The 5th Avenue Theatre). Earlier this year, Hoffer played Hedwig in Hedwig & The Angry Inch (produced by Balagan Theatre and Seattle Theatre Group). For more information on Jinkx Monsoon, visit her website at http://www.jinkxmonsoon.com/  

Applause! Applause! Review of Sutton Lee Seymour: The Way-Off Broad at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Sutton Lee Seymour: The Way-Off Broad at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Sutton Lee Seymour: The Way-Off Broad
Written & Performed by Sutton Lee Seymour (Prescott Seymour)
Guest Star: Cacophony Daniels (Courter Simmons)
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 5/18/16  

For the past three years, Prescott Seymour has been performing as Sutton Lee Seymour ("A Clown In A Gown") and in January, she debuted her latest show Sutton Lee Seymour: The Way-Off Broad in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Obtaining rave reviews, she has now brought the show to The Laurie Beechman Theatre where it is making its American debut. The show is a comedic celebration of Broadway, Disney & Hollywood with spot on impersonations of "a bevvy of burnt out booze bags." It is drag at its best featuring extravagant costumes and gorgeous wigs. If you don't get the theatrical reference implied by her name, Sutton Lee Seymour suggests you "get an education."

The voice-over at the beginning of the show warns, "I'd like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey." Suddenly, Sutton Lee appears to sing "Sweet Transvestite" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. She also does parodies of "Dentist!" ("My boy, I think someday you'll find a way to make your natural tendencies pay...You'll be a Drag Queen!") and "Suddenly, Seymour" from Little Shop Of Horrors." She then performs what she claims is "the best worst impersonations" of Liza Minnelli (singing "Don't Tell Mama" from Cabaret) and Judy Garland (singing "The Trolley Song" from Meet Me In St. Louis). Sutton Lee Seymour then does an impersonation of Eartha Kitt (as Yzma) singing a deleted song from The Emperor's New Groove before launching into the Disney Princess portion of the show during which she sings as Jasmine, Ariel, and Mulan before performing as the villain, Ursula The Sea Witch, from The Little Mermaid (a character inspired by Divine) not only as Pat Carroll, who got the role, but also in the voice of a number of women who were considered for the role, such as Beatrice Arthur and Elaine Stritch. (Sutton Lee also threw in impersonations of Carol Channing, Bernadette Peters, Joan Rivers, and Cher just for fun!). Sutton Lee was at her best performing "Wig In A Box" from Hedwig & The Angry Inch. It was extremely impressive! 

The show contained an appropriate amount of outrageous shenanigans including a fast-action scene change performed to "Yakety Sax" (better known as the theme song to the Benny Hill television show). Throughout the evening, Sutton Lee continued to warn Steven, her Stage Assistant, to remain out of the view of her audience, explicitly telling him, "Don't come out of your hole!", and "Back to your hole, homo!" She also performed the musical Chicago in five minutes and did a cartwheel. Sutton Lee Seymour is an extraordinary talent with a commanding stage presence. Before launching into her "Grand Finale and the 17 Encores," she gave the audience three important words of advice. The first was to always keep a smile on your face. The second is that life is going to tear you down and that you have to keep going. The third is you've got to love yourself because if you can't love yourself, how are you going to love someone else. 

Sutton Lee Seymour's Guest Star for the evening was the extremely talented Cacophony Daniels, who sang the very best rendition of "The Ladies Who Lunch" from Company I have ever heard in my life. She is absolutely amazing and I look forward to seeing more of her. When saying goodbye, Sutton Lee acknowledged she couldn't put on a show like this without help, so she said "thank you to the help." Sutton Lee Seymour, who grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, is ready to take this show to any place on the planet who will have her, and I am certain that wherever she performs, she will be a hit. 

If you live or are visiting the New York City metropolitan area, you will have two more opportunities to catch Sutton Lee Seymour (Drag Queen Extraordinaire) in Sutton Lee Seymour: The Way-Off Broad. It will be reprised at The Laurie Beechman Theatre on Wednesdays, May 25 & June 1, 2016, at 7:00 p.m. Tickets for this past-paced musical comedy are $22.00, which may be purchased at www.SpinCycleNYC.org or by phone at 212-505-1700. There is a $20.00 food/beverage minimum at all performances at this venue with a full bar and full dinner menu available. 

Don't miss this amazing, entertaining show! 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of the Village Light Opera Group's production of Anything Goes at The Riverside Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of the Village Light Opera Group's production of Anything Goes at The Riverside Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Anything Goes
Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
New Book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman
Directed & Choreographed by Courtney Laine Self
Musical Direction by James Higgins
Set Design by David Jones
Technical Direction by John Leyden
Lighting Design by Stephen Cyr
Costume Design by Emily Abma
The Riverside Theatre
Theatre of The Riverside Church
94 Claremont Avenue
New York, New York 10027
Reviewed 5/15/16

The original idea for this musical set on board an ocean liner came from producer Vinton Freedley, who selected the writing team of P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton. The first draft of the show was called Crazy Week, which became Hard To Get, and finally, Anything Goes. The original plot involved a bomb threat, a shipwreck, and hijinks on a desert island, but, just a few weeks before the show was set to open, a fire on board the passenger ship SS Morro Castle caused the deaths of 138 passengers and crew members. Freedley felt that proceeding with a show on a similar subject would be in questionable taste so he insisted changes be made to the script. Wodehouse & Bolton were in England and no longer available so Freedley turned to his director, Howard Lindsay, to write a new book. Lindsay recruited press agent Russel Crouse as his collaborator, beginning a lifelong writing partnership. Anything Goes had a tryout in Boston before opening on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre (now known as the Neil Simon Theatre) on November 21, 1934. It ran for 420 performances, becoming the fourth longest-running musical of the 1930s.

Anything Goes was revived Off-Broadway at the Orpheum Theatre on May 15, 1962. The script was revised to incorporate several of the changes which appeared in the 1936 and 1956 film versions of the play. This revision was also the first stage version of Anything Goes to incorporate several songs from other Cole Porter musicals. For the 1987 Broadway revival at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center, the book was updated by John Weidman & Timothy Crouse (Russel's son). This revival opened on October 19, 1987 and ran for 784 performances. It won Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Featured Actor (Bill McCutcheon as Moonface), and Best Choreography. It is this version of Anything Goes that has been presented here at The Riverside Theatre by the Village Light Opera Group. A revival of the 1987 Broadway rewrite opened on April 7, 2011 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company. This production ran for 521 regular performances and 32 previews closing on July 8, 2012. It won three Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney), and Best Choreography. 

The story concerns ridiculous, madcap antics aboard the SS American, an ocean liner heading from New York to London. Billy Crocker, a young Wall Street broker, catches a glimpse of Hope Harcourt, an American debutante, and falls madly in love with her. He abandons his duties and responsibilities to his boss Elisha Whitney (Go Bulldogs!) and becomes a stowaway in the hope of winning the love of this woman, who he later learns is an heiress from Oyster Bay, Long Island, accompanied by her mother Evangeline Harcourt, and engaged to be married to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, an Englishman. Billy has no interest in his friend Reno Sweeney, who loves him and is a performer on board ship. Moonface Martin (Public Enemy #13) is also on board disguised as a minister, along with his friend Erma. They help Billy escape detection by giving him the passport of Snake Eyes Johnson (Public Enemy #1), who missed boarding the ship under the fictitious name Murry Hill Flowers. Billy also disguises himself as a sailor, an old woman, and a man covered in hair cut off Mrs. Harcourt's Pomeranian and made into a beard. It turns out the Harcourt/Oakleigh marriage is more of a business relationship than one based on romantic love. The Captain of the SS American finds out Snakes Eyes Johnson is on board and runs a dinner in his honor with everyone believing that Billy, a young broker, is really Public Enemy #1. Eventually, Reno, an evangelist turned nightclub singer, decides to stage a Christian Revival asking audience members to repent and confess their sins. Billy admits his love for Hope and reveals his true identity which results in his being arrested and thrown in the brig with Moonface Martin. Lord Evelyn Oakleigh admits he once had "an unpremeditated romp in the rice with a Chinese woman named Plum Blossom," which eventually leads to the cancellation of his engagement. In the end, Hope falls for Billy, Evelyn falls for Reno, and Elisha convinces Evangeline to accept his hand in marriage. Billy's negligence in not selling a particular stock ends up making his boss an extremely rich man, and everyone apparently lives happily ever after.

The star of this production was Oliver Pierce, who did a smashing job of portraying Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. His hilarious rendition of "The Gypsy In Me" was spot on. Oliver Pierce is a charismatic actor with extraordinary talent who is definitely Broadway bound. Hope Salvan did a fine job as Reno Sweeney bringing to the part an Ethel Merman inspired performance. She was quite powerful throughout but especially when singing "I Get A Kick Out Of You," Blow, Gabriel, Blow!," and when performing the duet "Friendship" with Sean Cullen Carroll, who was consistently entertaining as Moonface Martin. Megan Doyle shined as Erma, Moonface's friend, especially when she sang "Buddie Beware" in which she warned all the sailors who were in love with her that they might get more than they bargained for if they ended up marrying her. While Lynne Brooke was perfectly cast as Evangeline Harcourt, the same cannot be said for Becca Garcia, a short woman with a small voice who, for some inexplicable reason, was cast as the Ship's Captain. All of Reno's Angels were beautiful and talented and Joe Bliss was a standout as the Ship's Purser, who was also part of the Sailor Quartet. Adrian Rifat as Billy Crocker, and Stephanie Haring as Hope Harcourt had their big moment when performing "All Through The Night," which was quite exceptionally done. There was tremendous talent is this quality ensemble cast. 

This production of Anything Goes was a definite crowd-pleaser. The audience members gave the cast enthusiastic applause and the buzz during intermission and after the show was that it was an unmitigated success. I will certainly check out future shows presented by the Village Light Opera Group, a non-profit community theatre company founded in 1935. For more information, check out their website at www.villagelightopera.org 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Douglaston Community Theatre's production of A.R. Gurney's The Dining Room at Zion Episcopal Church by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Douglaston Community Theatre's production of A.R. Gurney's The Dining Room at Zion Episcopal Church was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Dining Room
Written by A.R. Gurney
Directed by Linda Hanson
Douglaston Community Theatre
Zion Episcopal Church 
243-01 Northern Boulevard
Douglaston, New York 11363
Reviewed 5/7/16

White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, especially well-to-do Episcopalians, are the subject of A.R. Gurney's play The Dining Room. A series of overlapping vignettes take place around a dining room table manufactured in 1898 by Freeman's Furniture in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania but designed to look older. We catch glimpses of family life over many decades and observe the importance of etiquette, decorum and the politeness expected of people living in their upper-class communities and attending the Prep Schools, Boarding Schools, and Ivy League Colleges their children are expected to go to. Parents instruct their children regarding the social skills they will need to succeed. They learn how to dress, speak and act in various social situations. More importantly, etiquette in this context is used to remind people of their own status within society and to reinforce certain restrictions on individuals within that society. After all, if everyone did what felt good in the moment, "you might end up getting 'overstimulated' like your aunt did after she ran away with a man she loved." 

One needs to learn the rules, use proper grammar, and value discretion. Children may sit at the dining room table when they are ready to act and speak like adults. No one starts to eat until everyone is seated and no one leaves the table until everyone has finished their meal. Seating should be girl-boy, girl-boy. Little boys are supposed to help little girls. Parents sit at opposite ends of the dining room table, which should never be used for storage, sorting laundry, or for typing. Men may not wear hats inside the home unless at a birthday party. Proper decorum should always be observed because "it is a Dining Room and not the Monkey House at the Zoo." The telephone should be taken off the hook during dinner, which is at the same time each evening. It is expected that children should take dancing and horse riding lessons. Learning a musical instrument is also encouraged. The family's good china should remain on display as a symbol of their wealth but talking about your wealth would be considered crude.

Many found these rules to be "oppressive and brutal." Over time, what was expected of family members changed even though etiquette is still used to distinguish oneself from the unwashed, uneducated brutes of the lower classes. No longer can most families afford a full-time cook, gardener, and two maids. Servants' quarters have been closed off. People now eat "in living rooms and kitchens balancing their plates like jugglers - soon they'll be eating in bathrooms, and why not, it will simplify the process considerably." Children now live a thousand miles away, disappear for the summer and rarely write. Mothers may even "let guests use the good Beefeater gin who just want to mix it with tonic water." Fortunes are fading, grandmother's silverware has been stolen, many of your good pieces of China were destroyed when the movers dropped them, no one can afford to run elaborate parties anymore and getting good help is almost impossible. (One maid who was leaving said, "You'll manage." The woman of the house responded, "No. Not like this!") Family members don't drink liquor the way they used to. Now drinking Earl Grey tea at the dining room table is acceptable. The world is changing even though they are trying to hold on to their customs and lifestyles. The last line of the first act is, "We just have to go through the motions" and perhaps that is what people are now doing. Still, they can't go back. One daughter, who is asking her father to let her move back home with her children tells him, "I can't go back." Rejecting her plea to return, the father says, "Neither can I sweetheart. Neither can I."

One hilarious scene involves a young man's plea to his grandfather for tuition money to attend St. Luke's Boarding School. It is High Episcopalian and the young man wants to meet more sophisticated people from New York City and Boston. He reports his mom thinks "these boys will buff me up" and tells his grandfather he looks forward to being "buffed up." The cast members could barely contain their laughter. The other worthwhile story involves Standish and his brother Henry. Supposedly, Henry was insulted at his club by Binky Byers, who made "an unfortunate remark to him (in front of others) having to do with Henry's private life alluding in very specific terms to his personal relationships in the outside world." Standish was intent not to let it stand. He was going down to the club "to demand a public apology from Binky" and if he refused, he would "just have to fight him." When asked by his wife to have dinner first, Standish responds: "There is nothing, nothing I'd rather do in this world, then sit down at this table with all of you and have some lamb with mint sauce and roast potatoes...But I have to forego it. My own brother has been publicly insulted at his club, and that means our family has been insulted, and when the family has been insulted, that means this table, these chairs, this room, and all of us in it...are being treated with scorn." After Standish leaves, his son David asks his mom whether it is true that Uncle Henry is gay. She responds, "It may very well be true - but you don't say it to him, you don't say it at the club, and you certainly don't say it within a ten-mile radius of your father."  

The Dining Room was written by A.R. Gurney (Albert Ramsdell Gurney, Jr.). It was first produced Off-Broadway at the Studio Theatre of Playwrights Horizons on January 31, 1981. It transferred to the Astor Place Theatre on February 24, 1982 closing there on July 17, 1982. A cast of six (three men and three women) portrays over 50 characters during 18 scenes from different households that overlap and intertwine. Don't try to keep track of the stories or the characters. They go by too quickly. The six actors in this production were Michael Wolf, Annette Daiell, Joe Pepe, Sharon Levine, Dan Bubbeo, and Adrianne Noroian. They all worked very hard to put on this complex play and I commend them all for their effort. However, even though the play was staged in an Episcopal Church, the speech patterns and dress of the characters did not reflect the "High Episcopalian" social class with which I am familiar. (Many of whom attended St. Thomas Church, incorporated January 9, 1824, located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street in Manhattan.) If the actors made the effort to speak with the proper dialect, they failed. If they intended their mannerisms and dress to be reflective of the upper-class culture they were depicting, the attempt was unsuccessful. You need both to make this play a success. The script alone is not enough to give you insight into an entire social class. Perhaps the problem was that the director approached this play like any other, casting local actors instead of searching for actors that would be more suited to playing High Episcopalian White Anglo-Saxon Protestants from New England.

That being said, there are many enjoyable moments in this play. It allows you to reflect upon how the culture has changed and whether you would want to go back to those days if you could. If you have not yet seen The Dining Room, here is your chance! Tickets cost $17.00 for adults; $15.00 for students & seniors. For reservations, call 718-482-3332 or visit their website at http://www.spotlightonstage.com/dct.htm  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Kim David Smith's Morphium Kabarett at Pangea by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Kim David Smith's Morphium Kabarett at Pangea was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Morphium Kabarett
Hosted By & Starring Kim David Smith
Special Guest Stars: Joey Arias, Ali McGregor & William Ferguson
Musical Director: Tracy Stark
Piano: Tracy Stark
Bass: Matt Scharfglass
Pangea
178 Second Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 5/2/16  

Pure Cabaret Heaven! Superior voices, interesting material, and a magical atmosphere combined to form one of the best evenings of cabaret I have seen in quite some time. Hypnotic & Entertaining! If all cabaret shows contained this degree of talent and intimacy, there would be no worries about the future of this unique art form. I was seduced by newcomer Kim David Smith's charm, charisma, and singing abilities. Whether presenting songs in English, French or German, he always delivered the unexpected and added his own unique flare to the covers of songs he chose to interpret. Impeccably dressed, he captivated the audience and held them close to his heart as he gave them his all. William Ferguson, an opera singer who is Kim David Smith's husband, was a surprise guest who just happened to be in town for the launch of Smith's new Morphium Kabarett, a neo-Weimar cabaret fantasia that juxtaposes authentic period material with an arresting selection of stylistically compatible contemporary pop songs. Mr. Ferguson presented a light-hearted rendition of The Warthog (The Hog Beneath The Skin) written by Flanders & Swann, and a sweet, tender delivery of Beautiful Dreamer, the very last song written by Stephen Foster (found on his desk the day he died). (http://www.williamferguson.com)

Joey Arias, one of the announced special guest stars, is a performance artist and cabaret singer in drag who was tapped by Cirque du Soleil to originate the role of the emcee in the Las Vegas spectacular Zumanity. I saw him in that show, which was a role he played for six years. He was absolutely fabulous there as he was here. Joey Arias has the ability to win over an audience with the bat of a single eyelash. Sure, he forgot some lyrics and his earrings kept falling off, but none of that mattered. His sleek style, stage presence, and scandalous wit carried the day making the entire audience instant fans. He sang his own unique Billie Holiday-inspired renditions of You've Changed (music & lyrics by Bill Carey& Carl Fischer) and God Bless The Child (Arthur Herzog & Billie Holiday). As a younger man, he never got his ears pierced because he says, "I was afraid people would think I was gay." His friends would say, "I wouldn't worry about getting your ears pierced. The way you walk and talk already puts you at risk of being clocked." (http://www.earldax.com/arias.html)   

Australian singing sensation Ali McGregor, one of the two new Artistic Directors of the 16th annual Adelaide Cabaret Festival, missed the curtain call at the night's performance of Hamilton, to rush over in a taxi to perform a few numbers for her fellow Australian. She played a 1980s Suzuki Omnichord to redeem AC/DC's reputation by performing a cover of "You Shook Me All Night Long." She also sang a song for all the "glorious misfits" in the audience who got off their asses and left their homes on a Monday night to catch this show. She sang the song Creep that was made famous by Radiohead (music & lyrics by Colin Greenwood, Jonathan Greenwood, Albert Hammond, Mike Hazelwood, Edward O'Brien, Philip Selway & Thomas Yorke). Ali McGregor is delightful and a joy to experience. (http://www.alimcgregor.com)

The brilliance and diversity of the songs presented by Kim David Smith are best reflected by the haunting and inspired renditions of Pirate Jenny (a well know song from The Threepenny Opera written by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht) and Song Of Black Max (written by William Bolcom with lyrics by Arnold Weinstein) on the one hand and his complete reinvention of the more modern You Keep Me Hangin' On (Holland-Dozier-Holland) and Space Oddity (music & lyrics by David Bowie). The line from the Creep song sung by Ali McGregor ("You are so fucking special") seemed to be a good fit for Kim David Smith's commentary on American parenting methods ("You're great - no matter what!"), which he called "utter nonsense." Tracy Stark, the musical director, performed well, as did Matt Scharfglass on bass. Unfortunately, Mr. Scharfglass wore jeans to this upscale performance venue, which detracted from the professionalism everyone was striving to achieve. 

Kim David Smith's Morphium Kabarett will return to Pangea on May 9, 16, and 23 at 9:30 p.m. with all new Guest Stars. The cover charge is $25.00, with a $20.00 food and drink minimum. To purchase tickets online, visit www.pangeanyc.com or for information, call 212-995-0900. To learn more about the sensational Kim David Smith, visit his website at http://www.KimDavidSmith.com or contact him @KimDavidSmith (Instagram/Twitter).