Friday, April 24, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Chip Deffaa's Mad About The Boy at 13th Street Repertory Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Chip Deffaa's Mad About The Boy at 13th Street Repertory Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Mad About The Boy
Written, Arranged & Directed by Chip Deffaa
Music Director: Richard Danley
Choreographer: Rayna Hirt
13th Street Repertory Theater (50 West 13th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 4/19/15 at 7:00 p.m.

Chip Deffaa conceived this show with the aim of providing a mix of entertainment and education. He wanted to remind people that songs and recordings with a gay sensibility were being created long before the advent of the gay liberation movement. An original 50-minute prototype of the show was seen by nine-time Tony Award-winner Tommy Tune, who encouraged Deffaa to develop it into a full-length show. The new version of Mad About The Boy was workshopped at the 13th Street Repertory Theater with its first reading held on October 31, 2014 and its first public performance on April 12, 2015. This extremely entertaining show features fifteen (15) talented cast members and four new songs written by Chip Deffaa: "I'm Crazy For My Baby In A Uniform," Sidekick," "Ex-Gay," and "You Need To Be Loved To Be Happy." Mad About The Boy is described by Chip Deffaa as a work-in-progress with material still being added to and removed from the show to better improve it.  He is the author of sixteen (16) published plays and eight (8) published books. Richard Danley, the show's Music Director and pianist, is on the faculty of the American Musical & Dramatic Academy (AMDA) and has served as Music Director for Peter Duchin's Broadway revues; played countless cabaret shows in New York, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles; and has performed everywhere from daytime dramas on television, to cruise ships, to Carnegie Hall.

Mad About The Boy is a big, gay extravaganza featuring songs with gender-neutral pronouns that can be sung by two guys or interpreted from a gay perspective, lyrics with words containing double-entendre, and songs written by gay, lesbian and/or bi-sexual composers and lyricists. You will be moved by the relatively innocent young man trying to sell apples on the street while being constantly side-tracked by men who burst into song and would rather have a taste of his "jelly roll." You will be ready to march in a gay parade when the cast performs an inspiring rendition of the 1920 gay anthem "Lavender Nights" (a/k/a "The Lavender Song"). You will be angry when a bible-thumping, politically ambitious minister from Tennessee interrupts the rehearsal in an attempt to stop the show from opening in three days and amused when you learn he has returned to Splash over and over again on wet underwear night "looking to see who he could save." Finally, you will leave the musical with a new appreciation for "America The Beautiful," whose lyrics were written by Katharine Lee Bates, a woman who was in a "Boston marriage" for many decades. 

Shinice Hemmings, an amazingly talented young woman, led the ensemble in the second reprise of "America The Beautiful," which was an inspirational moment created by depicting Gay Americans singing a patriotic song whose lyrics were most likely written by a lesbian. Ms. Hemmings also hit a home run singing "B.D. Women's Blues," "Prove It On Me Blues," "T'Ain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do," and with other cast members singing "Masculine Women, Feminine Men" and "Lesbian Madness." The relatively mature Michael Knowles did a good job performing "The Boy In The Boat," and "Sissyman Blues" but he should have been moved further downstage center since his voice was not strong enough to carry from where he stood. With the mood created by Shinice and Michael, you could imagine yourself relaxing in a Buffet Flat (privately owned apartments in African-American neighborhoods in the first third of the 20th century that doubled as speakeasies and brothels that offered a buffet of booze, sex shows, marijuana and other illegal diversions). 

While there were other female cast members, this musical is really "all about the boy" and as three audience members stated, "the only additional thing this musical could use are "more boys" and "more skin," which Toby Medlyn (who played Reverend Billious S. Love and sang "I Can Always Find A Little Sunshine In The Y.M.C.A.", "Sidekick" & "Ex-Gay") and Michael J.C. Anderson (who played The Brit, Ryan Davis, Houdini, Michael Riedel and one of the Caveman and sang "Let's All Be Fairies") would have been more than willing to provide, right down to their birthday suits, if only they had been asked. Good for them for having the courage to be willing to do whatever the part calls for! The "advice" offered by the "planted" audience members was not meant seriously since Mad About The Boy features plenty of handsome, good-looking young men proudly parading around in their underwear, in swimsuits or in cavemen outfits. 

Just in case you were under the impression the gay rights movement began with the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, this musical will adjust your misconception when you hear the English lyrics of "The Lavender Song" (written in 1920; music by Mischa Spoliansky; lyrics by Kurt Schwabach & Jeremy Lawrence) sung by Michael Czyz, Shince Bre and the ensemble in Mad About The Boy. Those amazing lyrics are the following: "What makes them think they have the right to say what God considers vice. What makes them think they have the right to keep us out of Paradise. They make our lives hell here on Earth poisoning us with guilt and shame. If we resist, prison awaits so our love dares not speak its name. The crime is when love must hide. From now on we'll love with pride. * We're not afraid to be queer and different if that means hell -- well, hell we'll take the chance. They're all so straight, uptight and rigid. They march in lockstep, we prefer to dance. We see a world of romance and pleasure. All they can see is sheer banality. Lavender nights are our greatest treasure where we can be just who we want to be. * Round us all up; send us away; that's what you'd really like to do. But we're too strong, proud, unafraid; in fact we almost pity you. You act from fear, why should that be? What is it that you are frightened of? The way that we dress? The way that we meet? The fact that you cannot destroy our love? We're going to win our rights to lavender days and night." Of course the Nazi Party came to power in 1933 ending what little freedom gays and lesbians had during the days of the Weimar Republic.

While different members of the ensemble cast of Mad About The Boy play different roles at different performances, the primary actors at the show I saw were Joris de Graaf, Cody Jordan, Benjamin Grier and Michael Czyz. Joris de Graaf, who is from The Netherlands, was the best I've ever seen him. He sang "Let's Misbehave," "My Buddy," and "Beach Boy." The very attractive and extremely gifted Cody Jordan sang "I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None O' My Jelly Roll," "If Your Kisses Can't Hold The Man You Love," "Puh-Lease, Mr. Hemingway" (with Joris de Graaf), "Do Something," "I Want To Be Bad," and "He's A Good Man To Have Around." Benjamin Grier hit home runs with "I Can't Make A Man," "Find Me A Primitive Man," "I'm Crazy For My Baby In A Uniform," "My Cozy Little Corner At The Ritz," and "Just Some Guy." Michael Czyz, originally from Western Canada, gave us his all singing "Come Up And See Me Sometime" and You'd Be Surprised." Other standout performers were Maite Uzal, Amanda Andrews, John Brady, Al Roths, and Mark Blowers. Other songs included "He's So Unusual," "Help! The Girls Are After Me!", "He's My Secret Passion," "Pretty Baby," "That Old Time Religion," "When The Special Girlfriend," and "Green Carnation." When the CD from this monumental musical comes out, I promise you will want to listen to it repeatedly whenever you get the chance. 

There is no better musical playing in New York City this season than Mad About The Boy. Chip Deffaa has outdone himself this time and while I would tweak the script here and there were I in charge, the show is such a significant accomplishment, that it is more than fine just the way it is. You will want to go back to see it over and over in order to catch different actors playing different roles and singing different songs. If you are tolerant, open-minded and love the theater, this musical is for you. Start your fight for Lavender Days & Lavender Nights by going to see Chip Deffaa's Mad About The Boy many times during its current run -- and don't forget to wear your green carnation! For tickets, go to

Monday, April 20, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Moonlight After Midnight at The Kraine Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Moonlight After Midnight at The Kraine Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Moonlight After Midnight
Written by Martin Dockery
Dramaturgy by Vanessa Quesnelle
Performed by Martin Dockery & Vanessa Quesnelle
The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 4/17/15 at 8:00 p.m. 

It is hard to know anything for sure in Martin Dockery's Moonlight After Midnight as versions of the Guy In A Room and Girl At A Wedding play out fictitious scenarios that may or may not tell you anything about their past relationship. The play opens with a guy sitting in a chair in a hotel room looking out the window tracking a comet on a 10-year trajectory around the sun after which it will return on the same day and time before finally flying out into the universe never to be seen again. Despite the scientific unlikeliness of this fact, it is the hand we are dealt as the universe in which this meeting between the guy and girl takes place. The woman enters the room and appears to recognize the guy sitting in the chair but he tells her not to look at him, not to mention his wife, and not to say anything about how she misses him. The guy starts to ask the woman to play-act various scenes in which she enters and re-enters the room, sometimes posing as an escort he allegedly hired, sometimes acting as a woman who is attending a wedding who just happens to wander into his room and sometimes as his wife, although he refuses to kiss her. I personally had no clue why he was acting in this manner or what he wanted, and after a certain point, I didn't care. The whole process of watching a sub-script within a sub-script within a script was exhausting and it failed to provide any additional insight into the characters or what the various scenarios were supposed to reveal.

The facts I could ascertain were that these two individuals were once very much in love. They may have met in this hotel room when the comet was first seen. The girl was probably attending a wedding and did accidentally wander into his room, where they talked and fell in love. The guy told the girl then that he would be back exactly 10 years later to see the comet before it flew out into the universe. Three years later they married but he disappeared from their wedding reception and went back to their room claiming he was tired and lying about having a good time. By morning, he disappeared without a clue never to be seen again. Maybe love is as fleeting as the momentary presence of a comet. The girl remarried but on the 1oth year anniversary of the comet coming back around one last time, she made an excuse to leave her husband and two kids and to book that very same hotel room in the hope her ex-husband would be there and that she could finally obtain closure by finding out why he left her. The non-existent, imaginary guy in the room suggests that perhaps one explanation is that he went swimming and drowned but that doesn't really supply any answer the girl hadn't thought of as a possibility herself. So the play ends with the girl sitting in the chair looking at the comet flying out into space.

The writing isn't crisp or clear and there are very few memorable lines. My favorite was an exchange that took place when the guy revealed he used tape on the window to follow the trajectory of the comet. The girl says in response, "You're not exactly NASA", to which the guy says, "I have a smaller budget." The name of the play comes from an observation the girl makes when looking out the window to see the comet that was positioned somewhere near the moon. She says, "This is what you see when you look out at the moon after midnight." The bright star in Moon After Midnight is Vanessa Quesnelle, who is an extraordinarily talented actor and singer. In the production, she sings portions of three Patsy Cline songs, Walking After Midnight, Crazy & I Fall To Pieces, a cappella. However, her charismatic stage presence and good looks are not enough to save this play, that has no edge, no substantive revelations and a writing style that seems to reflect the main male character's motto to just Go With The Flow! Unfortunately, that flow takes the audience to a place they'd rather not go.

Applause! Applause! Review of Ronnie Giles' My Favorite Baby Boomer Love Songs at Don't Tell Mama by George Strum

This review of Ronnie Giles' My Favorite Baby Boomer Love Songs at Don't Tell Mama was written by George Strum and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

My Favorite Baby Boomer Love Songs - Ronnie Giles

Don't Tell Mama (343 West 46th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 3/6/15 at 7:00 p.m.

Ronnie Giles is fairly new to this game of cabaret performing but you wouldn't know it as he comes off like an old pro in his original One-Man Show entitled "My Favorite Baby Boomer Love Songs" at Don't Tell Mama. The dozen or so songs he performs with aplomb are with Daryl Kojak, his accompanying pianist and his musical director and arranger. The comic banter between numbers kept the proceedings light. However, one small glitch in communication occurred when Mr. Giles began to sing a song that his pianist wasn't playing, but that was handled humorously. The songs chosen all sit comfortably in the 60's and the emotion and feeling of each song was well-communicated to the audience. The highlight was his rendition of "Town Without Pity." It had a cool and jazzy feel about it as if he lived through an unrequited romance.

Mr. Giles likes to move now and then through his numbers which shows his agility and keeps the act from being static, which was well-appreciated by all attendees. In the middle of the program, Mr. Giles introduces a "surprise guest." Well, anything like this can happen here in New York City and it did here. The Diva herself, Barbra Streisand, who we are told was a good old friend of Mr. Giles from his Brooklyn days. Actually, she was portrayed by Dorothy Bishop, a professional celebrity impersonator who has her own show, The Dozen Divas, at the Metropolitan Room. A duet of "People" had its share of laughs. Ms. Bishop, although not exactly a Barbra look-alike, was able to capture her singing and vocal eccentricities. I think Ms. Bishop is talented in her own right and meeting her after the show, I was also able to see that she is a sweet person. Taking the stage solo again, Mr. Giles gives it his all in a show tune like Porter medley finale.

Ronnie Giles is a fine example of fulfilling one's dreams late in life. If you've always wanted to be on stage or screen when you were young, nothing should stop you now in your 50's or 60's. Just go ahead and do it! Life may surprise you!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Joan Jaffe: Sings Funnier Than Ever at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre in the Abingdon Theatre Complex by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of “Joan Jaffe: Sings Funnier Than Ever" at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre in the Abingdon Theatre Complex was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Joan Jaffe: Sings Funnier Than Ever
Written, Directed & Performed by Joan Jaffe
Musical Director: Matt Baker
Bass: Adam Kabak
Dorothy Strelsin Theatre
Abingdon Theatre Complex (312 West 36th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 4/12/15 at 7:00 p.m.

Joan Jaffe won the 2012 MAC Award for Best Musical Comedy Performer for her show Joan Jaffe's MAN-ha-ha-ha-TAN. She also has a long resume detailing her work as an actor in film, television and in the theatre. She appeared on Broadway in the role of Ursula in Much Ado About Nothing and as Gypsy in Bajour. She considers herself an actress, singer, dancer and comedienne, Joan has been quoted as saying she thinks she "must have been in Vaudeville" in a prior life. She also reports that even as a young dancer, she wanted to do comedy. "My father owned a drugstore and I was always going in there and reading the joke books and magazines," she said. "And I'd watch television and write down all the jokes." I believe her because the jokes she is using in her current show date back to the 1940s and 1950s, if not Vaudeville, and some are, in fact, older than Methuselah.

"I am so old that when I was young, we didn't have cell phones. We had two tin cans and a string." Such buried treasure is literally followed by her, Matt Baker and Adam Kabak squeezing three rubber chickens, ringing cow bells and blowing Harpo Marx-style horns! "I am so old that when I was young, we didn't have calculators. We counted on our fingers and toes - and all the little boys could count to twenty-one!" "I'm so old my back goes out more than I do." It doesn't stop there. Joan continues, "I called my first car 'flattery' because it got me nowhere" and "I know my cats are not my children. They are my roommates and they let me live in their apartment." Even her puns were extremely weak. She promised the audience she would be "embracing technology soon and will get an I-Pod, an I-Pad, an I-Phone, and an I-Rack," but she's afraid the latter will keep falling down on top of her.  

Joan Jaffe sang twelve songs that were not particularly humorous finishing with parody lyrics for the song "Memory" from the musical Cats. The parody lyrics made fun of older people losing their memories. I don't know if there is a line here about making fun of people with dementia but it turned out to be quite ironic since Joan Jaffe forgot the lyrics to "Talk To The Animals," "Nobody Loves A Fairy When She's Forty," and "Bagel & Lox" needing to be prompted by Matt Baker, her extremely talented Musical Director. The highlight of the show was a musical duet performed by Matt Baker and Adam Kabak during a costume change. The enthusiastic applause received by this duo was in sharp contrast to the tepid applause received by Joan Jaffe that would momentarily jolt the few audience members who decided to use this show as a much needed opportunity to catch up on some sleep.

Joan Jaffe: Sings Funnier Than Ever needs to be reconceived and rewritten from scratch. It needs a better selection of funny songs, new jokes, more clever patter and a forum that can better highlight Ms. Jaffe's rather weak vocal instrument. Matt Baker and Adam Kabak are consummate professionals and I look forward to seeing them perform in other venues. Jon Peterson is listed as a Consultant in the program. I mention him only so that he gets whatever blame he deserves for his part in putting the show together. For more information about Joan Jaffe, visit her website at: