Monday, October 12, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Moxie Magnus & The Alien Androids From Uranus at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Moxie Magnus & The Alien Androids From Uranus at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Moxie Magnus & The Alien Androids From Uranus
Written & Performed by Brantley Moate
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 10/11/15  

Lt. Moxie Anne Magnus, the Chief Xenocosmetology Officer aboard the USS Enterprise under Captain James Tiberius Kirk, appears on stage to tell the audience they are not really in a cute little cabaret in New York City but instead are trapped in a milky liquid in a stasis chamber aboard a rocket heading to Uranus (The Planet). The Evil Queen of the Alien Androids of Uranus intends to use the humans she kidnaps to power their alien technology for nefarious purposes. Moxie Magnus has placed the audience in a time loop and this is the ninth time she is attempting to save us from the Evil Queen who intends to force an anal probe (a large, silver twelve inch dildo) into Uranus (The Butt) after which there is no turning back. Moxie is projecting her image into our minds. She is really lying on a bed in Sick Bay in the 23rd Century spooning with Spock. To defeat the Evil Queen, Moxie Magnus tells us we must form a mental link with all the other audience members. To do so, we must clap profusely, laugh at everything she says, and shout out Moxie! Moxie! Moxie!. In the end, we must learn the password, which is "Encore" and if we don't scream it out, she promises "we will die one way or another."

To get us in the mood, music from Star Trek is played as we wait for the show to begin. Without her hair extensions, Moxie mingles with the audience welcoming everyone and thanking them for coming. I spotted some local Starfleet ship members in the audience as well as Moxie fans wearing tee shirts promoting this show. Moxie Magnus is pleasant, perky and charismatic. She was impeccably dressed in three impressive Star Trek inspired uniforms, decked up with hair extensions and wearing high-heel, black boots. Towering over the audience, this eight foot tall Starfleet officer (counting the heels and the hair) reminded everyone that if she is dressed in blue, she is simply a lowly officer; if she is dressed in gold, she is in command; and if she is dressed in red (probably as the Evil Queen of the Alien Androids of Uranus (The Planet)), then she is in very deep trouble. 

This Queen of the Final Frontier played the ukulele but warned the audience she was "not trained at all in music, a fact we wouldn't know until we heard her play." During The Ballad Of Moxie Magnus, there was also a good line where she said her "falling into a Black Hole made the Vulcan Council weep." She also reported her uncle wrote a book on anti-gravity that was "light reading" and that she "just couldn't put the book down." He also gave a lecture on the human heart, lungs and kidney, but she didn't attend because she "can't stand organ recitals." At the bar, she met a microbiologist but she was "very small." From there, the jokes become even more lame and the stories flew off in directions completely unrelated to the theme of the show. Her opening story was about how she and Princess Leia went to the same finishing school and shopped together. This was completely inappropriate since we came to see a Star Trek universe themed show, not a Star Wars universe show. It would be like going to a Roman Catholic Church and seeing a Muslim Imam leading the congregation. There were also long silences between costume changes that needed to be filled with something. To say the show did not come off like clockwork is an extreme understatement.

Let me be clear. I thoroughly enjoyed the character presented to us. Moxie Magnus is bright, intelligent and entertaining. The only problem is she needs to write a show that is as high quality as she is. No problems with the costumes and hair. No problem with her personality and voice. Basically, it's just her material that sucks. Too many groaners! So how can the show be improved? She needs to record Star Trek related videos to play during her costume changes. Her jokes need to be relevant to the Star Trek universe (and/or to her work as a xenocosmetologist) and they mustn't be lame. It couldn't hurt to add some steamy K/S slash into the show. Her songs should be on-topic filk or ones that mention Star Trek characters, like the 99 Red Balloons song she sang mentioning Captain Kirk. She could also work in some other space-related songs or song parodies while keeping "Rocket To Uranus," which was a very good choice.

At the end of the show, Moxie Magnus confessed that "2016 is the year she intends to make it big." She said, "2015 was that year, but it didn't work out." (I'd say for obvious reasons) I would be happy to go back to see Moxie's next show and to recommend it to friends, but she needs to improve the writing, better rehearse the show and tighten up the theme. For more information about Moxie Magnus, visit her website at 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of What The Rabbi Saw at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Billy Van Zandt & Jane Milmore's What The Rabbi Saw at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

What The Rabbi Saw
Written by Billy Van Zandt & Jane Milmore
Directed by David Dubin
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York
Reviewed 10/9/15  

Billy Van Zandt tells me What The Rabbi Saw was first performed at the Henderson Theater in Lincroft, New Jersey as part of Phoenix Productions' summer season of 1995. Mr. Van Zandt directed it there and this slapstick comedy farce was based on a short sketch from his and Jane Milmore's play Do Not Disturb written in 1991. It takes place just before the wedding of Walter and Wendy in a Waldorf Astoria hotel suite reserved for Lainie Berman, a performer the bride's father has flown in from Las Vegas to sing at the wedding. Ms. Berman (who has been played by Adrienne Barbeau on the East Coast and by Eva Longoria on the West Coast) may or may not have fooled around with Mr. Kirschenbaum (the Father of the Bride) in Las Vegas. She is late in arriving with Vinnie, her jealous mobster boyfriend, so everyone knows the room is empty and some wedding guests decide to take advantage of that fact for some last minute infidelities. 

The play opens with Walter (The Groom) in bed with Claudia (The Bridesmaid and his soon to be sister-in-law). When their tryst is interrupted by Mrs. Kirschenbaum's knock on the door, Walter's tuxedo pants' zipper gets caught in the chiffon of Claudia's dress. Walter removes his pants and the antics begin. It is soon revealed that Wendy (the Bride) and Mitch (The Best Man and Walter's Best Friend) have also been having an affair. Walter beats up on Mitch. Wendy gets drunk. Walter, Mitch and Rabbi Huchelman lose their pants along the way. Noel, The Wedding Coordinator, goes looking for pants and when Walter and Mitch put on each other's ill-fitting pants, Noel asks, "Did you ever think of trying to switch?" to which Claudia responds, "How do you think we got into this problem in the first place?"

As for depicted stereotypes, Noel (The Wedding Coordinator), referred to the Waldorf Astoria's "condescending concierge" as a "French Bastard" (I don't know why he thought he was French) and Mr. Kirschenbaum (who was spending $100,00o on the wedding) was portrayed as "cheap" when he told Noel he was not paying for Lainie Berman's guest, who showed up unexpectedly and without an invitation. The gay-acting Noel was also heard to say he had experience "pulling things off," and although he said he "didn't want anyone handling" his "hidden treasures," nevertheless agreed to a date with Mitch, who enjoyed wearing Lainie Berman's dress and wig as a disguise, and thus appeared to be a bi-sexual, transgendered individual. 

The best line of the play is uttered by Rabbi Huchelman when he walks in on Walter and Mitch jumping around the room with their pants off. The Rabbi says with a strong Jewish inflection, "What's with all the leaping and the prancing?" They attempt to explain away their situation by trying to convince the Rabbi he is hallucinating because he ate mushrooms while imbibing Manischewitz wine but he will have none of it. He responds by saying, "I see London. I see France. I can see your underpants."

This zany comedy is packed with silliness and ridiculous situations. Don't expect any depth or substance here. There are no particularly memorable lines and the script invites over-acting, which is fine in this particular situation. You will not have sympathy for any of these bad-acting characters. More importantly, very few of the story elements can stand up to critical scrutiny. Walter supposedly started having an affair with Claudia after she got her $12,000.00 nose job but when someone hits her on the schnozzola during one of the fast-paced stunts, now, all of a sudden, Walter no longer loves her. When Vinnie pulls out a gun and threatens to kill everyone, it appears music mysteriously compels everyone to dance as they all try to take the gun away from Vinnie by passing it to one another, a plan doomed to fail in the end. Then the play reaches another level of total implausibility when Mrs. Kirschenbaum takes the gun and tries to force everyone to go through with the original wedding plans. As if that wasn't enough, when everything has been resolved and Noel instructs everyone to leave the room to go down to the ballroom, no one appears able to move for some unknown reason. Total insanity!

David Dubin, the Director, promised the audience an evening of fluff and fun. Nothing requiring you to think. Just dessert. I feel he delivered on that promise. The set was lovely and the entire cast was quite enjoyable to watch as they clearly had a lot of fun performing for us on stage. Particularly impressive was Tom Brown, who played Walter, and Gary Milenko, who was hilarious as Rabbi Huchelman. Other cast members included Nicole Intravia (Wendy), Janine Inamorato Haire (Claudia), Michael Cesarano (Mitch), Robert Budnick (Mr. Kirshenbaum), Ruth McKeown (Mrs. Kirshenbaum), Joanne Rispoli (Lainie), Rich Jimenez (Vinnie), and Scott Earle (Noel). There is also a hilarious, running gag involving a suit bag hanging in the closet. If you are looking for mindless fun and more than a few laughs, I recommend you check out this production of What The Rabbi Saw running at Studio Theatre Long Island through October 25, 2015. You can purchase tickets for $25.00 and reserve your seats by visiting 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Andrew Carter Buck's Behind Blue Eyes at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Andrew Carter Buck's Behind Blue Eyes at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Behind Blue Eyes
Starring Andrew Carter Buck
Musical Director & Pianist: Walter H. Thompson
Director & Script Supervisor: Kimberly Vaughn
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 9/29/15  

Andrew Carter Buck's first solo cabaret show Behind Blue Eyes was a surprisingly professional and entertaining debut, which demonstrated his talent and was a huge hit with his supportive and enthusiastic audience. This blue-eyed boy graduated from the University of Central Arkansas (Conway) with a degree in Vocal Performance in 2005 and performed in some local musical productions. After realizing he was "a pretty big blue dot in a very red state," this Rackensacker moved to New York City armed with only a suitcase and a dream. Six years and four jobs later, he decided it was time, between auditions, to launch his own cabaret show, which was paid for, in part, by a Go Fund Me campaign that raised $3,130.00 from 32 people in one month. Now 33 years old and with his parents present, he told the general story of his life in New York from his occasional anxiety and depression to his posting a "missed connection" ad on Craig's List after he failed to speak to a guy he was attracted to on the subway. Most of the patter was used to introduce the various songs he sang as opposed to revealing anything intimate or insightful regarding his own personality. For example, he donned a red and black boa, spoke of his singing many numbers at Marie's Crisis and then sang "Cabaret" describing it as the unofficial anthem of that West Village institution. 

Two original songs, written by Andrew Carter Buck, were introduced. "Winter's Rain" spoke about friends of his who "took their final bows" and "Agnostic's Prayer" reflects his desire to commit to something greater even though he is "not religious." Mr. Buck has a very strong voice and a commanding stage presence. He was casually dressed in blue jeans and a purple shirt with his hair combed straight and parted down the middle. At least four dozen red roses stood in a vase set upon the piano. He enunciated the lyrics to all his songs and added a dramatic dimension to those that benefited from it. I particularly enjoyed "Use What You Got," "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," "Say Something," "Almost There,", "Taking The Wheel," "I Am What I Am," and Seasons Of Love." However, "Travelin' Thru," "NYC," "Another Hundred People," "Up On The Roof," and "Cabaret" were also quite enjoyable. Behind Blue Eyes was a huge success! With it, Andrew Carter Buck has hit a home run! He is an extremely talented young man who was able to present to us a small sample of what he has to offer. 

For his next show, I would suggest he dress up a bit more professionally, have his hair styled and tell a few more humorous anecdotes and some intimate details about his life experiences. After the show was over, I did not feel I knew anything more regarding the kind of person Andrew Carter Buck is. If you asked me how he might respond if petted, I could not tell whether he would purr or scratch your eyes out. A cabaret show is not a play or a one-man show. In those, we are not expected to learn anything personal about the actor but in an intimate cabaret setting, especially if it is the singer's first show, I expect to learn something about the performer in addition to whether or not he or she has talent. Luckily, in this case, we got a glimpse of this man's huge potential. Behind Blue Eyes gave attendees more than their money's worth of entertainment. I also expect future shows will be even better given Andrew Carter Buck's stated philosophical belief that "Life is a metamorphosis. We learn. We change. We grow." At the end of the show, he revealed he now realizes he is exactly where he needs to be, which is NYC, and The Natural State's loss is our gain!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of I Could Go On Singing: Susan Hodgdon Sings The Songs Of Judy Garland at Don't Tell Mama by Nickolaus Hines

This review of I Could Go On Singing: Susan Hodgdon Sings The Songs Of Judy Garland at Don't Tell Mama was written by Nickolaus Hines and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

I Could Go On Singing: Susan Hodgdon Sings The Songs Of Judy Garland

Starring Susan Hodgdon
Musical Director: Daryl Kojak
Director by Tanya Moberly
Additional Musical Arrangements by Bill Zeffiro
Don't Tell Mama 
343 West 46th Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 7/24/15

Susan Hodgdon entered the cabaret room of Don't Tell Mama, sans microphone, sans inhibition. Hodgdon's voice filled the brick room over the live piano with ease as she brushed past the shoulders of the audience and didn't miss a note of If You Feel Like Singing, Sing. Hodgdon's CD Release Show for "I Could Go On Singing: Susan Hodgdon Sings The Songs Of Judy Garland" on September 24th was a tribute to passionate singing and performing. Something must have clicked amongst Hodgdon, musical director Daryl Kojak, director Tanya Moberly, and Bill Zeffiro, who contributed musical arrangements, because the entirely of Hodgdon's show was a runaway success. No tripping or toe-stubbing here.

Youthful notes define Hodgdon's voice as she has managed to maintain the voice of a young woman through lessons and practice without the addition of crackle and gravel added by life's normal wear and tear. That youth is most evident in Hodgdon's speaking voice, the volume transition of which she successfully manages to control whether or not using a microphone. Hodgdon's high notes are clear and on point and she also well managed the lower end of her range. What often separates a naturally good voice versus a trained voice is enunciation, and Hodgdon makes an unmistakable effort to ensure each word is understood.

Judy Garland and Hodgdon have a connection that artists look for when imitating another's work. In this case, Hodgdon's cousin wrote the lyrics to Over The Rainbow, and Hodgdon used to lock herself in her room as a shy kid and sing Garland songs while her father listened from outside. On Garland's father's deathbed, he asked the nurse to turn up the volume on the radio when a Garland song was broadcast. On Hodgdon's father's deathbed, he asked Hodgdon to record her songs for him and a nurse said he listened to the CD on repeat. That kind of personal story added a deeper and more intimate level onto Hodgdon's performance. 

Her narration and easy on the ears speaking voice glided in and out of her songs, telling a story. When it came to Garland's love affairs and dirty laundry, Hodgdon aired it all with the secrecy and the insider feeling of being let into the group of gossip girls in high school. However, despite all the joy of listening to Hodgdon, she is not Garland. Which, for everyone except the extreme die-hard Garland fans who want to hear a live replica, is perfectly alright.

Two different medley arrangements by Bill Zeffiro didn't hit as hard as the full songs if only because Hodgdon's beginning and ending of her songs were so well performed. Particular songs to look out for are Send My Baby Back To Me, I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues, and an original song by songwriter John Meyer called I'd Like To Hate Myself In The Morning. Meyer, who was in the audience, applauded amicably and said he couldn't have imagined it sung any other way. Hodgdon's chemistry with pianist Daryl Kojak helped the show succeed. Their understanding and blending of each of their musical styles for the performance sounded like two friends putting on a show rather than a rehearsed recital.

For Garland lovers and lovers of live performance alike, Hodgdon is a delight to see and hear. If you missed this show, you will have another chance to catch it on Saturday, November 7, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. at Don't Tell Mama. For reservations, call 212-757-0788 or visit 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Dina Martina: Flat & Lacking at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Nickolaus Hines

This review of Dina Martina: Flat & Lacking at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Nickolaus Hines and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Dina Martina: Flat & Lacking
Created by Grady West
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 9/20/15  

When going to The Laurie Beechman Theatre to see Dina Martina's show Flat & Lacking, she will tell you she is "going to be your hostess for just a little too long." At parts of the act, that statement drags true.

It's clear to see where the "flat" in Flat & Lacking comes from after the first song. The sold-out audience chanted "Di-na, Di-na," as she walked out into the audience and blasted a purposefully garish voice into the microphone. Exaggerated vocal fry piqued the interest of the audience as they watched Martina run around, grind on audience members, and interact with as many people as made eye contact with her, all the time trying to understand the lyrics. 

She sang three songs in total, but they all came across as a one-note joke, pardon the pun. Martina's true talent lies in her storytelling, although keeping track of the random for random's sake progression was challenging at times. If anything, Dina Martina's 20 years on stage have culminated into this experiment in random, trying to learn how many inane and nonsensical story lines can be put into one act.

The one-line zingers punctuated "the throw at the wall and see what sticks stories," and for many audience members, the one-liners appeared to save the act altogether. Much of the humor comes from self-deprecating jokes about herself, her family, her interests, and even her dreams. In one retelling of a mushroom trip of a dream, Martina babysits Jesus for Mary and Joseph because they went to see 50 Shades Of Grey. She nailed bizarre to the cross. The next thing that came out of her mouth was always the next craziest thing.

A long-standing trait of Martina is a mispronunciation of words and a lisp that turns "s" sounds into "sh" sounds, and "g" sounds into "j" sounds. It was a stainless steel crutch, but she didn't need it often because the friendly audience was completely engaged in her act. 

Martina used a tried and true style of comedy that can best be compared to verbal slap stick, but that doesn't mean she doesn't use physical humor as well. She reveals her unshaven back, plants a fat lipstick mark on the forehead of an audience member and, at one point, wears a Batman costume.

Flat & Lacking is filled with pop culture references to the past and the present. It doesn't feel old, but a couple of bits were almost an anachronism in today's world of YouTube, Vine, and viral activity.

The time between scene changes is filled with Martina's videos. Similar ones can be found with a quick YouTube search, and they all follow a similar format. A commercial or music video has Martina's face copied over the actual actor/singer's face, and the person talking/singing is her. It's the same concept as the dancing elves that swept Facebook the past couple of Christmas seasons, but with a full splash of Martina all over it.

Don't let the videos referencing the 1980s and 1990s give you the impression Martina doesn't know what is going on in today's society. The references are for a generation that grew up with MTV, but have also read American poetry and dipped their toes in the worst part of Comedy Central. She skillfully weaved together a single sentence that mentioned Maya Angelou, Katy Perry and Carrot Top without taking a breath in between their names.

Why this variety of comedy is entertaining can't be answered immediately. Then again, Martina has clearly built a loyal audience that made packing into The Laurie Beechman Theatre a tight affair.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Dina Martina: Flat & Lacking at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Dina Martina: Flat & Lacking at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Dina Martina: Flat & Lacking
Created by Grady West
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 9/20/15  

The creation of Seattle performance artist Grady West, Dina Martina (a tragic mess straight out of a John Waters' movie) appears to be half-raccoon and half-bear. Her over-applied make-up and hairy back are certain to scare small children, and more than a few adults as well. Appearing in a black gown with a black wig, Dina Martina opened the show wandering through the sold-out audience singing a few numbers into a large microphone held in place with a brace strapped to her head. She intentionally sang the songs in an affected manner (described by others as the sound of "screeching cats") and added to that some crazy dance moves, which were expected by her legions of devoted fans. Although it's supposed to be funny because she is such a bad singer (her own website describes her as "a tragic singer, horrible dancer, and surreal raconteur"),  I felt the novelty of her off-beat singing style got old real fast. Nevertheless, Dina Martina has a huge fan base specifically because she appears to be completely oblivious regarding her inability to carry a tune or for that matter, to find clothing that fits her. One might view her as a demented gal living out her delusion of being a star but with the quick wit and sharp timing that almost makes it work. I think you will either love her or hate her - she's that kind of performer! 

Ms. Martina asked who in the audience never saw her perform before. Perhaps a quarter of the house raised their hands and she observed, "Isolated Pockets of People" but "Hot Pockets nevertheless." For these newcomers, she gave a short bio of Dina Martina's earlier life. She said she was born in the Appalachian Mountains but "moved to Las Vegas with her mother, who wanted to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a compulsive gambler." She never knew her father, "who died in childbirth." She said she has a "swimmers build, hates GMOs and loves to cook," and that she was a fashion model for the braille community. Finally, she said she is still single "due to an unwritten agreement between herself and all men."

While charitable causes have always been an important part of her life, she admits that Dina Martina's Pink Eye Foundation has given up looking for a cure or vaccine to prevent pink eye. They simply reached a point where they no longer cared and placed the issue beyond the back burner, more like between the back of the stove and the wall. The good news is that she has a new cause, that of finding a cure for melanoma in dogs. Their planned fundraiser is "a 10k drive to IHOP in Bushwick." While there, they have decided to eat at IHOP because if they didn't, "it would be like traveling all the way to Europe and not visiting the Pyramids." She is working on a new CD entitled Dina Martina: If This Ever Goes To Trial and during costume changes, we saw two videos. The first was her hawking a fictitious video entitled Remakes From The 1980s where she takes bad song videos and remakes them with her in them. She encourages you to buy them and instead of offering a money back guarantee, she promises "if you don't like it, you don't have to watch it." The second video is about a product called PlentiDerm, a botox-style injectable product that adds volume to your cheeks. It is made from carrion, which is the decaying flesh of dead animals, and scares French women. Dina Martina also announced she was selling tee shirts after the show, which were made by "very small hands in foreign places."

Dina Martina appeared on stage in a batman outfit and in an elegant pink gown with the back completely open, showing off the bear side of this larger-than-life creature. She is an excellent storyteller, who relayed a fictitious encounter she had with Maya Angelou, who told her "that which doesn't make us stronger, kills us." She also told us about a dream she had of her "baby-shitting" Jesus while Mary & Joseph went out to see the movie 50 Shades of Grey. Jesus was wearing a monogrammed onesie with LBJ ("Little Baby Jesus") on it. I won't ruin the story for you, but all I will say is that it involved shaking the baby, alfredo sauce, and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Dina Martina got through the crisis remembering the following advice her mother gave her, "whenever you find yourself in trouble, pop out your left boob - it's a game changer!"

Dina Martina: Flat & Lacking may not be for everyone, but you will experience more than a few laughs and an enjoyable evening of entertainment. Dina Martina creates the illusion you are watching someone with no real talent. But this Demented Dame is fearless and whether or not she has talent, her jokes and insights are well-written and edgy with many excellent cultural references. Therefore, I recommend you "fly there on a goose" or "put a saddle on your favorite moose" so as not to miss her remaining shows at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. As Dina Martina tells her audience at the end of the show, "If you had a good time tonight, get a butter knife and spread the word." For more information and to purchase tickets, visit 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

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

This review of “Godspell" at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Directed by Mark Harborth
Book by John Michael Tebelak
Music & New Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Pianist: Kyle Branzel
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11215
Reviewed 9/18/15 

Godspell originated in 1970 as John Michael Tebelak's master's thesis project, under the direction of Lawrence Carra, at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A version was performed at Carnegie Mellon in 1970, with several of the cast members from the CMU Music Department. Tebelak then directed the show, with much of the student cast, for a two-week, ten-performance run at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club (a/k/a Cafe La Mama), New York City opening February 24, 1971 as a non-musical play. It was brought to the attention of producers Edgar Lansbury (brother of Angela Lansbury), Joseph Beruh, and Stuart Duncan by Carnegie alumnus Charles Haid (Associate Producer), who wanted to open it Off-Broadway. The producers hired Stephen Schwartz, another alumnus of Carnegie Mellon's theatre department, to write a new song score. Godspell, the musical, opened at the Cherry Lane Theatre on May 17, 1971, transferred to the Promenade Theatre three months later, and closed on June 13, 1976, after 2,124 performances. The first Broadway production opened on June 22, 1976, at the Broadhurst Theatre. The musical transferred to the Plymouth Theatre and later to the Ambassador Theatre, where it closed on September 4, 1977, after 527 performances and five previews. There was a revival at the Lamb's Theatre that ran from June 12 to December 31, 1988, followed by an Off-Broadway revival at the York Theatre from August 2, 2000 to October 7, 2000. The first Broadway revival began performances on October 31, 2011 at the Circle In The Square Theatre and officially opened on November 7, 2011. The production closed on June 24, 2012.

The structure of the musical involves the acting out of a series of parables, mostly based on the Gospel of Matthew (three of the featured parables are recorded only in the Gospel of Luke), that are interspersed with musical numbers. Through these "lessons," we are supposed to believe that a devoted cult is formed around the charismatic personality of Jesus and that his followers stay together after he is executed to teach his message of salvation to others. Everything Jesus does is to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament and to set himself up as the Messiah. As Jesus says in the musical, "I did not come to abolish the prophets or the law but to complete them." But the truth may be that Jesus intended to overthrow the existing Jewish religious hierarchy and the Romans, with the goal of having each of his Twelve Apostles head up one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. It is this worldly goal that Judas may have reported to the Roman authorities in return for a reward. Once Jesus, the failed revolutionary, got crucified, all that was left was for his followers to say, "The King Is Dead. Long Live The King" and continue on promoting his message that the time of judgment was near.

In the "Tower of Babble" song, which was included as the opening number in this production of Godspell, cast members speak about the various philosophies they believe in before being baptized by John, Jesus's cousin, who speaks of the Chosen One who will be coming after him. It is highly unlikely that intelligent, self-actualized people who used their reason and logic to adopt a particular philosophy would so quickly abandon it in favor of what Jesus now told them God wanted them to do. The very controversial new "neo-Judaic" philosophy may have resonated with the poor and ignorant, but certainly not with the educated. Seriously, who, except the poor and uneducated would go along with the following messages taught through the telling of the parables: "If a man sues you for your shirt, give him your shirt and coat as well."; "No man can serve two masters - God and Money."; "Never turn your back on one who wishes to borrow."; "If a man hits you, do not hit him back but turn the other cheek."; "Don't worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself."; "Every man who humbles himself will be exalted."; and "Don't do good deeds just to get adoration before men. Your good deeds must be in secret." The old chestnut is that the rich and successful may have it better here on Earth, but the poor and humble will get their reward in Heaven. All that backs up this new "Christian" philosophy is the promise of eternal Salvation and threat of eternal Damnation, teachings Christians have had a hard time convincing descendants of the Enlightenment have any basis in fact. 

This production of Godspell lacked the positive, emotional impact and upbeat atmosphere you might expect to experience. There are many reasons for this, but the most evident is the performance of Sean O'Shea as Jesus. Sure, he looks the part, but the affected delivery of his lines was extremely distracting. Let me just say that if he slapped me in the face like he did Judas in the play, I would have slapped him back, just for being overbearing and annoying. In Act Two, when Jesus goes off to pray for an hour, his disciples fall asleep and he is very upset with them. Jesus is forced to wake them up, and along with them, a few audience members who were asleep and snoring during most of the show, one right in the front row. Diego Rios did a fine job as John The Baptist and Judas as did the remaining cast members, which included Elyse Beyer, Sarah Denight, Albert Jennings, Ashli Louis, Jacleen Olson, Aramie, and Geena Quintos. All had superior voices and acting abilities. The show's standout performer was Adrian Rifat, a charismatic, rising star who gave his all and did his best to arouse the audience to actively participate with what was happening on stage, especially when he sang "We Beseech Thee." Mr. Rifat, who is a 2012 graduate of the American Musical & Dramatic Academy, is a multi-talented actor with a great future in the theatre (if you are interested, he can also execute a Wookie call and crochet). Had Adrian Rifat been cast as Jesus in this production, the end result may have been very different than it turned out. 

Godspell at The Gallery Players was disappointing because the cast members failed to exhibit the rapport that was supposed to be built throughout the first act. With that missing, all you have are parables and some well-sung songs, which were not enough to hold this show together. There was one funny line inserted into the script. When a priest stepped over a man who had been beaten and robbed without helping him, the priest looked down and said "you're not an altar boy!" implying that if he was an altar boy, the priest would have helped him.

On a different issue relating to the audience's experience, I found the new, increased price of concession items to be very unfortunate and disturbing - $2.00 for a small cup of coffee/tea; $3.00 for a can of soda (which is 50% more than anyone charges in Times Square and was a price I refused to pay); and $6.00 as the suggested donation for a small plastic cup of wine. In my opinion, the Board of Directors of The Gallery Players should not view concessions as a way to milk the audience out of additional funds but as an amenity to make the theatre-going experience more enjoyable. That means reasonably priced home-baked or bakery bought goods, $1.00 coffees and teas, $2.00 soda (maximum price), and $4.00 suggested donation for wine; and all in bigger cups. 

For more information about the upcoming 2015-2016 season of The Gallery Players and for tickets to Godspell, visit