Sunday, July 23, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Pippin at SoLuna Studio by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Pippin at SoLuna Studio was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Pippin
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Roger O. Hirson
Directed & Choreographed by Karen Braun
Assistant Director/Choreographer: Greg Pepe
Musical Director: Danny Passadino
Assistant Musical Director: Jack Tanzi
Lights, Sounds & Set: Megan Pietroforte
Fight Choreographer: Mark Maurice
Costumes: Leighann Martone & Karen Braun
SoLuna Studio
659 Old Willets Path
Hauppauge, New York 11788
Reviewed 7/21/17

This was my first time reviewing a show at SoLuna Studio, and if this production of Pippin is any indication of the quality of their work, I can assure you I will be back. The staff is friendly, the stage is large, and the concession items are reasonably priced. There is even a raffle with many wrapped basket items that will be drawn for at the end of the current run. Some of their productions have alternate casts performing on different days. I saw Main Stage Cast A. However, I was told Justin Autz, the main actor playing Pippin, also performs the role as part of Main Stage Cast B. Pippin premiered on Broadway at the Imperial Theater on October 23, 1972, and ran for 1,944 performances before closing on June 12, 1977. The original Broadway production won 5 Tony Awards: Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Ben Vereen), Best Direction of a Musical (Bob Fosse), Best Choreography (Bob Fosse), Best Scenic Design (Tony Walton) & Best Lighting Design (Jules Fisher). Pippin was revived on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre with previews starting on March 23, 2013, and an opening on April 25, 2013. The Broadway revival closed on January 4, 2015, and won 4 Tony Awards: Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical (Patina Miller), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Andrea Martin), and Best Direction of a Musical (Diane Paulus).


Even though Pippin is a story about Charlemagne and his first-born son, the theme of a young person seeking meaning and fulfillment in life is universal. As was the case with Pippin, after years of having his ego boosted with no real responsibilities, some children come to believe they are special and destined to do extraordinary things. They seek to find their "corner of the sky." Then, at some point, reality strikes and their dreams are shattered. This musical uses the premise of a mysterious performance troupe, led by a Leading Player, to tell the story of Pippin as he searches for something to do that is significant and worthwhile. He tries war, music, fornication, revolution, politics, the church, and finally settles down to work every day on a farm doing simple things with the love of a good woman, but none of these endeavors fulfill him. The Leading Player eventually offers Pippin the opportunity to go out in a blaze of glory in a manner people will never forget. But he declines and is lost having no good options left. Perhaps his grandmother was correct when she told him "you think too much." 

While Pippin's journey for fame and glory is over, every day many young people seek to climb to the summit of their own personal mountain only to settle or "compromise" when they finally give up their unrealistic dreams. While the musical is upbeat and in this production, immersive with actors dressed in colorful costumes performing stunts and dancing all around the audience members, the overall theme is quite depressing. Morning Glow, the song ending Act I, never hit me as hard as it did in this production. After all, it is sung just after Pippin kills his father in cold blood in a church and before he can ask for his knife back in Act II. I should also add that this musical is far more adult-themed and violent than it is generally promoted as being. Charlemagne kills thousands of his own peasants and while working with the Pope to convert nonbelievers, he offers heathens the choice between "Baptism or Beheading." Charlemagne's own wife sets him up for assassination by Pippin so she can advance her son's chances of becoming King. Finally, Pippin engages in orgies and has premarital sex with Catherine. Even Berthe, Pippin's grandmother, is a bit of a slut. In my opinion, caution should be used before exposing this show to young children. 

There were many extraordinary actors in this production but the standout performer, by far, was Jordan Yates, who played Lewis (Pippin's half brother who is second in line to the throne). Yates' portrayal of Lewis ("who loves weightlifting, wrestling, and above all else, himself") was absolutely hilarious. Jordan Yates is a charismatic and talented actor who never stepped out of character. It was my pleasure to watch him perform on stage and I hope to see more of him in future productions. Fastrada, his mother and current wife of King Charles, was masterfully portrayed by Haley Licata. She has a strong stage presence and a powerful voice. Robert Sock was King Charles The Great. His unique facial expressions and dance movements combined to make the part of Charlemagne his own. I was very sorry to see him killed near the end of Act I but I forgot that in Pippin "there is magic to do, just for you!". Kylie Lavrenchik brought innocence and light to the stage as Catherine, the widow who convinces Pippin to take up responsibilities as head of the household, until he gets bored and leaves. Finally, Samantha Jurman hit a home run playing Berthe, Pippin's exiled grandmother. She was an audience favorite!

Justin Autz, who played Pippin, and Mia Donneruno, who was Leading Player, are both good actors. They looked the part and wore costumes appropriate for their respective roles. However, Justin Autz lacked sex appeal and had trouble staying on key when singing some of the songs, and Mia Donneruno just wasn't strong enough to carry off Leading Player. I kept wondering how different the show would have been had Haley Licata been Leading Player. The supporting cast was very talented and I particularly liked the disembodied head, who was not credited in the program that had no bios for any of the actors. Karen Braun deserves credit both for her direction and for the choreography. Particularly impressive was the Fight Choreography, designed by Mark Maurice. Bravo! The costumes were magnificent. Credit for them goes to Leighann Martone and Karen Braun. Finally, since some of the actors (Pippin & Catherine) demanded appropriate spotlights, Megan Pietroforte gets credit for turning them on when required - on cue.

During this anecdotal revue, there are some funny lines. As Pippin sought fulfillment, he joined the Church hoping to be "touched by an angel" but "it wasn't an Angel who touched him." He tried the Arts, but every time Charlemagne slashed the budget, funding for the Arts was always the first to go. After a successful battle, Pippin participated in the rape and sacking ("an essential part of victory) but he found War Sex to be "empty and vacant" (he thought there would be "more plumes"). The King believed Lewis was "the perfect soldier - fierce and stupid." Pippin appeared shocked when Lewis spoke favorably about raping Visigoth women. Seeing Pippin's reaction, Lewis apologized saying, "I am sorry to have offended your bookish sensibilities." Pippin responded, "No, it's not that. I'm just shocked you like women now." Reflecting a universal conflict, Berthe confesses she has been banished from Court "due to a personality conflict with my daughter-in-law." In the end, The Guardian of Splendor invited Pippin the opportunity "to remain in our minds forever" by jumping from the highest height into the flames below where he would be "like the sun blazing in the sky at its zenith." Pippin declines and the troupe calls him a "compromiser." He considers going back to Catherine because he now understands,"If I'm never tied to anything, I'll never be free." On the other hand, he also recognizes "There is no color I can have on Earth that won't finally fade." No resolution is offered and the audience leaves the theater contemplating their own destiny and their search for meaning and fulfillment. 

For more information about upcoming productions of SoLuna Studio, visit their website at www.solunastudiony.com or call them at 631-761-6602.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of The Producers at Back Stage Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Producers at Back Stage Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Producers
Book by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan
Music & Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Music arranged by Glen Kelly & Doug Besterman
Directed by Brian Stalter
Second Stage Productions
Back Stage Theatre
1750-A Merrick Avenue
Merrick, New York 11566
Reviewed 7/16/17

The Producers opened at the St. James Theatre on Broadway on April 19, 2001, and ran for 2,502 performances, closing on April 22, 2007. The show originally starred Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock and Matthew Broderick as Leo Bloom. The production won 12 Tony Awards, breaking the record held for 37 years by Hello, Dolly!, which had won 10. If you are unfamiliar with this musical, you should be forewarned that some of the jokes and themes are X-rated, and the book, written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, is extremely politically incorrect objectifying women and liberally making fun of homosexuals and other minorities. If you are easily offended, I think you might be well-advised to pass on seeing this musical. If you have a good sense of humor and enjoyed Mel Brooks' 1974 movie, Blazing Saddles, then this is the show for you.


Barry Kaplan does a fine job playing Max Bialystock, a famous Broadway producer who hasn't had a hit in quite some time. (He also made some bad decisions, like inventing Theater In The Square, where no one had a good seat.) He raises money for his productions (never putting in a dime of his own) by fooling around with women with walkers who are well past their prime. He remembers each one by the key-phrase they use during foreplay. For example, the very aggressive Hold Me - Touch Me, quite believably portrayed by Judy Mahoney, is interested in their role-playing as the Milk Maid and The Well-Hung Stable Boy. Exhausted, at one point Max suggests they play a game that doesn't involve any sex, like The Jewish Princess & Her Husband. Leo Bloom, a shy, virgin Accountant from Whitehall & Marks, happens to be in Max's office when Hold Me - Touch Me is visiting. He is shocked and yet intrigued by what he has witnessed. At some point, he makes an off-handed comment that a producer could make more money with a flop than with a hit by overselling shares in a production that quickly closes. Eventually, the two team up to carry out this scheme. Vin Maiello, who really dedicated himself to the role and eventually pulled it off, was almost twice the age the part calls for, and with silver hair, he had his work cut out for him to win over the audience. I am happy to report his performance was a great success. If only Barry Kaplan could have remembered who was Max and who was Leo, their teaming up would have been perfect.

Zoe Carpentieri shines as Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson, the Swedish bombshell who auditions for Max and Leo and is eventually hired to be their "secretary-slash-receptionist." After her audition for a part in "Springtime For Hitler," they tell her, "We may be sitting down my dear but we are giving you a standing ovation." After listening to her morning routine, they tell her she should get to the office at 11 a.m., the time "Ulla likes to have sex." Ulla and Leo eventually fall in love leaving Max the odd-man out. Hoping for a flop, Max and Leo buy the exclusive rights to "Springtime For Hitler" from Franz Liebkind, a former Nazi who coerces them to dance and take an oath. Max and Leo take the oath but somehow forget to raise the correct finger while taking it. Michael Janover nailed the part of Franz Liebkind both in accent and through his enthusiastically performed German dance numbers - "In Old Bavaria," "Der Gutten Tag Hop-Clop," and "Have You Ever Heard The German Band." To guarantee a flop, they filled half the audience with Jews and hired Roger DeBris, a flamboyant gay director, who intended to have the Nazis win World War II during the second act of the play. Franz Liebkind was originally cast to play Hitler but when he broke his leg, Roger took over. As you probably know, the play was a hit. This was despite the fact, as Leo observed, that our leading man "was so gay, he nearly flew away." The standout performances of the evening were by Michael Harrison Carlin, who embodied Roger DeBris, and by Michael Harrington, who played Carmen Ghia, DeBris' "common-law assistant." Their acting was one of the highlights of the show. We also learned that Adolf Hitler and Roger DeBris had something in common - both have "Elizabeth" as their middle name and were "descended from a long-time of British Queens."

After the success of "Springtime For Hitler," Leo Bloom decides he is going to turn himself into the authorities and beg for leniency. Max disagrees and they are fighting over possession of the accounting books when Roger & Carmen crash into their office and observe Leo mounting Max from the rear yelling, "Give it to me!" "Give it to me!" In one of the funniest lines of the show, Roger DeBris says, "That's what I call celebrating!" Upset that the play made his idol, Adolf Hitler, look bad, Franz Liebkind enters the office with a gun that eventually goes off. The police arrive and discover the two accounting books - one entitled "Show To The IRS" and the other entitled "Never Show To The IRS." Max tries to pose as an innocent Irishman but is arrested anyway. An African-American police officer tells Max they are serving something he might enjoy eating and Max's response was, "I have heard of Black Irish but this is ridiculous!" Leo escapes to Rio with Ulla and the two million dollars not confiscated by the police. They get married and have sex but eventually feel guilty and return to testify on Max's behalf. It does no good and Max and Leo are sentenced to five years in state prison. After having their sentences commuted by the Governor for bringing music and joy to their fellow prisoners, it's Bloom Day after all, and Max and Leo go on to produce many hit musicals including Prisoners Of Love, Katz, 47th Street, and South Passaic.

This production of The Producers featured a fine supporting cast. I particularly enjoyed the three young ladies who played Franz Liebkind's pigeons and Keith Jones who was eclectically cast as both a Storm Trooper having trouble pronouncing Hitler's name and as a Transgender Chorus Girl eager to offer up his services to Leo Bloom, who started off as "a weak and droopy daffodil" but ended up becoming a producer, which was everything he wasn't when he started out on this path. 

This production of The Producers is a huge success. I highly recommend you see it. Tickets cost only $20.00 and can be purchased at the door. Remaining performances are on Friday, July 21st at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, July 22nd at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, July 30th at 7:00 p.m. For more information, visit www.2ndStageProductions.com or call 516-996-0303. 

Applause! Applause! Review of The Producers at Back Stage Theatre by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of The Producers at Back Stage Theatre was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Producers
Book by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan
Music & Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Music arranged by Glen Kelly & Doug Besterman
Directed by Brian Stalter
Second Stage Productions
Back Stage Theatre
1750-A Merrick Avenue
Merrick, New York 11566
Reviewed 7/16/17

I thoroughly enjoyed The Producers performed by Second Stage Productions at the Back Stage Theatre. It was the theatrical equivalent of a home run with all the bases loaded: great book, great music, and great performances by a cast that sang and acted well.


The six main characters and the lesser characters were all perfect in their roles thanks to their selection and direction by Brian Stalter. Unfortunately, the Playbill was too bare bones and didn't provide any bio or background on the truly wonderful actors. In this Long Island Community Theater that is in the process of extensive renovation, the least underpaid actors can receive is recognition. For example, Roger DeBris was expertly played by Michael Harrison Carlin, an Equity professional, as an outrageous, incompetent gay cross-dressing director. On the other hand, Leo Bloom was played by Vin Maiello, a gifted amateur. Without makeup, the silver-haired, middle-aged Maiello successfully portrayed a much younger Leo Bloom who found a savior and mentor in Max Bialystock. Barry Kaplan was the wily, conniving Max Bialystock desperate for success of any kind when he was inspired by Bloom to commit outright fraud. Franz Liebkind is played as the perfect fool by Michael Janover, who has written "Springtime For Hitler," an outrageous musical paying tribute to his idol Adolf Hitler. Carmen Ghia, the partner of Roger DeBris, acted by Michael Harrington as a character so light in the loafers he almost floated off the stage (remarkably beating out Keith Jones in that category). Zoe Carpentieri exuded sex appeal as Swedish bombshell Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson.

The second tier actors were equally well-cast and performed their roles with gusto, enthusiasm, and authenticity. Staci Ertel and Samantha Szillus were perfect as the bookend Usherettes. Judy Mahoney was quite believable as the "Hold Me - Touch Me" aged granny investor that Max Bialystock must sacrifice himself to in order to get financing for his plays. Chris Williamson and Keith Jones performed several roles quite capably and even director Brian Stalter joined in on the fun portraying the Judge and Leo Bloom's boss. The show girls who performed a multitude of roles and costume changes were enthralling and enthusiastically played by Nadina Espinosa, Camilla Montoya, Shannan Lydon, Meghan Jacobsen, Emily Missbach, and Jenna Kavaler. As for the remainder of the cast, there wasn't a clinker in the batch. 

The set was well-designed by Vin Maiello, who also played Leo Bloom. The sound by Laura Stalter was initially too loud at the beginning but was adjusted to a more reasonable level. In addition, someone's microphone kept scratching creating a significant distraction at numerous times throughout the evening. Sebastien Diaquoi's Lighting Design highlighted the actors well. Peter Berenberg has his job as House Manager cut out for him. Second Stage Productions has just taken over its space at the Back Stage Theatre. The theatre was well-air-conditioned but there was only one bathroom for the entire cast and audience. There appeared to be new seats but none large enough for a big-boned person such as myself. The actors could also use secure storage lockers for their costumes and it would have been nice if refreshments were available during intermission. Since the front door of the Back Stage Theatre faces west, the sun came glaring into the theatre from under the door which was quite distracting until the sun set. 

Despite these minor setbacks and limitations, my spirit soared as I experienced the baseball equivalent of a perfect game. Do not miss this show! It is well-crafted and brilliantly performed by a great ensemble cast. In my opinion, it's a Once In A Lifetime Experience! Additional performances of The Producers are Friday, July 21st at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, July 22nd at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, July 30th at 7:00 p.m.. Tickets cost $20.00 and can be purchased at the door. For more information, visit www.2ndStageProductions.com or call 516-996-0303. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Silver Lining presented by The Singing Experience at The Triad by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Silver Lining presented by The Singing Experience at The Triad was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Silver Lining
The Singing Experience Workshop #481
Director: Linda Amiel Burns
Associate Director: Joan Adams
Music Director: Richard Danley
Technical Director: Shannon Epstein
The Triad
158 West 72nd Street
New York, New York 10023
Reviewed 6/19/17

Linda Amiel Burns has been running The Singing Experience workshops for the past 40 years. The result has been that over 5,000 individuals have fulfilled their dream of performing on stage before family and friends in a supportive atmosphere. It is not so much about launching a new singing career than it is to gain self-confidence and to take steps to find happiness in your own life. As the charismatic and loving Ms. Burns says, "Music transforms you and makes you feel good." In this fun workshop, participants "sing, meet each other and find a song to perform that means something to each of them." After the show is over, the singers get a video tape of the performance and have a wrap party in Ms. Burns' apartment. The supportive Richard Danley (with "golden fingers that play in every key") is the Musical Director who works with each singer to bring out the best in them. Ms. Burns says he "transforms and transcends." Shannon Epstein, the Technical Director, made sure the lighting and sound were perfect for each performer's "big night." In the end, the "new stars" made new friends and had a fun and fulfilling experience. Many participants return to take additional workshops and at the end of every show, Singing Experience alumni are invited on stage to take part in the show's finale.


Family and friends of each performer were seated together and treated to free snacks prior to the show. Everyone was extremely friendly and in a very good mood since they were there to see a loved one or friend perform. The opening and closing numbers were sung as a group. We were told the singers did not know in which order they would appear on stage so they had to be ready when called upon. Each performer greeted the audience, gave a brief bio of what they do in real life and, after singing a song or two, introduced the next person up with a fictitious, over-the-top bio intended to inspire each singer to live up to their potential. This method of presentation didn't always work out since some of the performers forgot the names of their new friends. One particularly embarrassing moment was when Martin P. Klein forgot Michelle Yaskel's name and didn't seem to be particularly concerned about the faux pas. Some of the performers were dressed to the nines, while others didn't take the time to focus on anything else other than their singing.

The entire cast opened the show singing "Look For The Silver Lining." Particularly impressive newcomers included Janine Brunetti ("How Far I'll Go"), Shari Passales ("Nice N' Easy"/"That Face"), Georgia Buchanan ("How Are Things In Glocca Morra?"), and Michelle Joy Yaskel ("I Gotta Be Me"), who announced she got her start singing publicly at member events sponsored by the Beaux Arts Society, Inc. (founded 1857). Professional performers contributed to the evening's entertainment - Linda Amiel Burns ("Everybody Sing!"), Richard Danley ("The Haunting Memory"), and Bill Dyszel ("Embraceable You"), who sang at The New York City Opera. Others who love to sing included Vincent Blier ("Ain't No Sunshine"), Suzannah Grady ("Before The Parade Passes By"), Martin P. Klein ("Pretty Girl"/"Toot Toot Tootsie"), Joe Medeiros, Jr. ("Angel"), Rosemary Saporito ("Love Me With All Your Heart"), Bonnie Schneider ("Some People"), Mary Carol Tedeschi ("Strong Woman"), and Bill Thomas ("Easy To Be Hard"). The closing number, "On A Clear Day," contained the following line Ms. Burns wanted everyone in the audience to pay particular attention to: "Let the glow of your being outshine every star!"

If you have ever dreamt of singing on stage, I would encourage you to consider signing up for an upcoming workshop. The Singing Experience is best explained in the following note in the evening's program: "The Singing Experience is a complete performance workshop where you will learn everything you need to be a well-rounded, confident performer - on stage and in life. Through singing, you will embark on an extraordinary voyage of self-discovery. In a nurturing atmosphere, you'll learn more than technique; you will dare to take risks, soar above your imagined limitations, and discover the artist within. Come join the legions of The Singing Experience Alumni. Some are entertainment professionals and others sing for the thrill of it, but all have undertaken this joyous adventure of challenge, commitment, and fulfillment and learned to express their innermost self through singing. Give yourself a gift of song. The bliss is immediate, the benefits long-lasting." For more information about The Singing Experience, visit their website at www.SingingExperience.com or call 212-315-3500.

Linda Amiel Burns, the Director of The Singing Experience is a 2-time MAC & TRU Winner, who currently serves as President of the American Popular Song Society. She is also a Writer/Critic for Theater Pizzazz, Theater Life, and Theater Scene. Her dedication to all who have participated in The Singing Experience is admirable and praiseworthy. She has given it her all and has helped transform the lives of the people she has met. Brava!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Lauren Yee's In A Word at The Cherry Lane Theatre by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Lauren Yee's In A Word at The Cherry Lane Theatre was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

In A Word
Written by Lauren Yee
Directed by Tyne Rafaeli
The Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street
New York, New York 10014
Reviewed 7/2/17

In A Word delivered a thorough introspective of what it can be like to work with and raise difficult children. The play showcases a child seen as adorable in one moment and then troublesome in another. The juxtaposition of this child's different phases left me wondering whether I felt bad for any of the characters at all. At first, I empathized with the parents who had lost their little boy. The situation seemed so heartbreaking. A child had gone missing and his two loving parents were unable to move on, but as the sequences of the play revealed a clearer picture of the circumstances of the household, I felt like the audience was challenged. We were confronted with the question of whether the value of the loss and the parent's remorse changed with the knowledge that the child was mentally handicapped.


The play began in the living room of the Hamlet family. The husband, Guy, steps in to find the wife, Fiona, searching through boxes. It's the second anniversary of the disappearance of their adopted little boy, Tristan, and as Fiona frantically ransacks the apartment looking for evidence of their child, Guy tries to get her to go out for dinner for the first time since the tragic incident two years ago. Jose Joaquin Perez's performance as Guy was particularly patient and respectable alongside a clever Laura Ramadei. Perez brought a lot of emotion to his part as he made impassioned appeals to his wife. It makes sense right off the bat that he wants her to move on from their lost child, but she has a hard time letting go. He is concerned for her, but he can't understand why she has been so listless these past two years. He tells her, "This has to stop" and in almost the same breath, reminds her, "Was there something that you wanted to tell me?"

These appeals launch a series of flashbacks that became the main substance of the play. About every 3-5 minutes, the couple would say some lines of dialogue that would cue a flashback sequence and an extremely talented Justin Mark, who played a myriad of roles including the role of Tristan, joined the couple on stage. His comedic timing was impeccable. As a detective, Justin mockingly plays with a cantaloupe from Fiona who thought she had met the kidnapper at the grocery store. She has some trouble when she first sees Justin Mark, the detective because the kidnapper and Tristan were also played by Justin Mark. He says, "I just have one of those faces." It is revealed later that Fiona never saw the kidnapper on the day of Tristan's disappearance, but she is clearly hung up on the loss of her child. She not only hallucinates meetings with the supposed kidnapper, but she also paints a glossy picture over the time that she was living with Tristan. Fiona tells the newspapers that she "loved him" and that she "misses him very much," but Guy tells the audience, "funny, I never remember hearing those words (when Tristan was around)."

One of Fiona's favorite lines to young Tristan is "take care of your things or you're going to lose them." Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like Fiona took her own advice. As Guy brings up, Tristan was a much more difficult child than Fiona would let the media know. She likes to tell how great Tristan was, but in reality, he was "difficult." That's what Guy remembers hearing. At school, Tristan was a nuisance, and Fiona had to take him into her own class to keep him from going into special education. It is actually unclear as to why she does this considering that Tristan's behavior is revealed to actually be pretty horrible. He has trouble controlling is bowels. He has trouble learning. He can't make friends. His own father recognizes his developmental disabilities and calls him at one time "retarded." Fiona tries to avoid this word, but she can't seem to come to grips with the reality of Tristan's situation. After a particularly traumatic "picture day," the school gives her a leave of absence and she loses Tristan in the parking lot of a gas station when she stepped in to grab a candy bar. She finally reveals this to her husband, Guy, who reminds her that "even if we can't get justice, we can get better."

At the beginning of the play, I felt remorseful, but when I learned more about how Fiona handled her son's situation and education, I felt a lot less empathetic towards her and unfortunately, her child. It seems to me like she wanted to remain in denial rather than make tangible efforts to help Tristan get better, more helpful attention. That being said, I also wonder if I'd still feel as badly for the missing child as I did at the start if I knew then that he had these difficulties. I definitely feel bad for the husband and father, Guy, who has stayed patiently by his wife's side for these two years, but there is an element of "you reap what you sew" to the whole play. In A Word will keep you entertained for sure, but it may also leave you scratching your head at times at the behavior of the two parents. It's well-written, fluid, and makes you think. If you're looking for that, get tickets at www.CherryLaneTheatre.org or call OvationTix at 866-811-4111.

Applause! Applause! Review of Bastard Jones at The Cell Theatre by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Bastard Jones at The Cell Theatre was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Bastard Jones
Book, Lyrics & Direction by Marc Acito
Music & Lyrics by Amy Engelhardt
Choreography by Joe Barros
The Cell Theatre
338 West 23rd Street
New York, New York 10011
Reviewed 6/30/17

Bastard Jones started out with a bang and ended with an earth shaking finale. Simply put, well done. The play told the oft-comedic tale of Tom Jones, a 1749 story of a bastard ward to an English squire named Allworthy. After release, the book was condemned for having been lewd and was credited with causing a number of earthquakes. The cultural commentary still resonated today with a well-constructed plot revolving around the love affair between the bastard Jones and Sophia Shepherd, a Reverend's daughter. My initial thought was that this exemplary off-Broadway production seems poised to make a push toward larger audiences. Marc Acito, the writer of Allegiance, did a superb job of weaving amusing action between entertaining songs setting the stage for gripping reveals. He and lyricist Amy Engelhardt were aided by an energetic cast with strong vocal talent that provided us ample opportunity to bask in awe.


"When a low-born's heart can bleed such kindness, it makes us think of God," sings Bridget, Squire Allworthy's frequently ill sister, played by the lovely Cheryl Stern. She ponders the fate of young Tom Jones just before she makes a pivotal decision to aid him by unveiling a secret that may shatter her own reputation. It's at this moment we learn the most about each character. Squire Allworthy has fallen ill after stopping to aid a pregnant woman in the street. Tom, his bastard ward played by an exceptional Evan Ruggiero, remained by his side. Meanwhile, his true nephew Mr. Blifil, brought to life by a witty Matthew McGloin, drank and conspired with Reverend Shepherd to wed the Reverend's daughter. Reverend Shepard, played by Adam B. Shapiro, was one of the most hilarious actors in this musical. He played the role of the chief antagonist as he shouted Damnation and Fornication as Tom Jones vied for his daughter's virtue. So, what is Bridget contemplating as she watches Tom by her brother's side?

Tom has done himself no favors to this point. He slept with a local beauty, Molly, given cheeky flair by Alie B. Gorrie, who became pregnant while his first love Sophia was away. Sophia loves Tom too, but she is concerned by his promiscuity and drunkenness. She confesses her love and sexual awakening with one of the most memorable songs of the night, proclaiming, "I felt a tingle." However, he has an honest and kind heart which Bridget intends to reward. She writes a short letter before dying, which she handed to the Reverend. He gives it to Mr. Blifil, her son, who after reading it quickly disposes of it. When Tom rushes out to share the news that the Squire is alive and then heads out for a night on the town, Blifil seizes the moment to report Tom's misdemeanors to Squire Allworthy as evidence that Tom was not at his bedside during the bleak moments. As Allworthy issues a sentence of banishment, the song "Born To Be Hanged" is sung with gusto by all. At the same time the sentence is being issued, Tom discovers that Molly has been sleeping with the Reverend. Tom breaks it off with her so he can be with Sophia. Before he can rejoice, he discovers he has been banished.

This sequence of events sets up the remainder of the play. Tom saves a Mrs. Waters on the road, and Sophia runs away to avoid Blifil. The two meet in an Inn on the road, and when Sophia catches Tom fornicating with Mrs. Waters, she flees to London. Tom chases after her but is unsuccessful in persuading her to hear his pleas as Lady Bellaston arrives. Crystal Lucus-Perry stole the second act with a wickedly stunning portrayal of Lady Bellaston. She commands a lord and lover to "Have another oyster, dear" until she is satisfied. She harbors Sophia with her cousin, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, and lusts for Tom, who had been promised an audience with Sophia. Tom breaks it off with Lady Bellaston, who, for revenge, conspires to end his life by framing him for the murder of Mr. Fitzpatrick who has been chasing after his wife. As the executioner prepares to carry out his responsibility, the fates align to reveal what Bridget had said in that letter. Tom Jones is actually Bridget's son with the former schoolmaster Partridge, who had become Tom's companion. Upon learning this, Allworthy grants Tom his estate and the other characters reverse their opinions of the former villain. Even Reverend Shepherd admits to his affair with Molly and condones his daughter's marriage to Tom Jones.

I hope you have a chance to see Bastard Jones while it is still running Off-Broadway. The Cell Theatre has brought in a talented cast who added a lot to the story with strong chemistry on stage. My pulse raced as the plot unfolded, and I couldn't be happier with my decision to go see Bastard Jones. I do believe that the jokes about sex never go too far for a modern audience and would be fit for almost anyone over the age of 18. Frankly, you should see Bastard Jones now, before it moves to a larger theatre and the price per ticket soars. If you are looking for a musical comedy that will give you more than a few smiles, Bastard Jones is for you. It will be all the rage soon! Even I hope to see it again! Tickets can be purchased for $40.00 at www.TheCellTheatre.org or by calling 1-800-838-3006.