Monday, February 29, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Articulate Theatre Company's Folk City Scenes at TADA! Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Articulate Theatre Company's Folk City Scenes (part of its "Articulating The Arts" series) at TADA! Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Articulate Theatre Company's Folk City Scenes
Articulating The Arts Series (Eight Plays)
TADA! Theater
15 West 28th Street
New York, New York 10001
Reviewed 2/27/16

Articulate Theatre Company is four years old and is committed "to connecting audiences and artists with work that is intelligent, thought-provoking and visually striking." When asked what Articulate is all about, Artistic Director Cat Parker, says it features works that focus on "myth, magic and the mundane." In Folk City Scenes, another presentation in its "Articulating The Arts" series, playwrights used particular folk songs as inspiration to write short plays. Eight short plays were presented, which included Train Rail (written by Jamie Neumann; directed by Wendy Mae Shelton; featuring Isabelle Dungan & Stark Wilz); In The Autumn Mist (written by Robert Verlaque; directed by Joan Kane; featuring Crystal Edn, Phoebe Torres, and Tom Kane); In Transit (written by Robin Rice; directed by Brock Hill; featuring Carolyn Seiff & Charlotte Hampden); To Every Thing There Is A Season (written by Bara Swain; directed by Eric Siegel; featuring Jill Bianchini & Diane Terrusa); The Betrothal (written by Germaine Shames; directed by Cat Parker; featuring Lana Schwartz, Shetal Shah & Sergei Burbank); Babe I Hate To Go (written by Rhea MacCallum, directed by Denise Pence; featuring Adam Perabo, Jennifer Wilson McGuire, and Stark Wilz); Lay Down My Sword (written by Grant Bowen; directed by Robert Verlaque; featuring Ryan Daley & Eric Percival); and Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace (written by Kelly Zekas; directed by Aimee Toderoff; featuring Joanne Dorian & Denise Pence). 

The entire evening was a wonderfully crafted and entertaining experience. Folk City Scenes ran for only two nights and the performance I attended was sold out. All attendees received two free concession tickets, which entitled them to get a cupcake (with the Articulate Theatre Company's logo on top of it), and a tin of mints. You could also purchase other reasonably priced items and bring them to your seats. While attendees were arriving, Wolf & Cantrelle (Josh Wolf & Carla Cantrelle), Folk Duet Artists, performed thus creating the proper atmosphere to get people in the mood for the show that was to follow. They led two sing-a-longs. One to Michael Rowed The Boat Ashore and the second to This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie). They also performed snippets of the folk songs that inspired the plays in a recreated Greenwich Village Folk Cafe (complete with posters of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and others) that was constructed in the back of the stage. During Train Rail and Babe I Have To Go, the extremely talented Stark Wilz performed on harmonica and guitar, respectively. The evening ended with a full hour Panel Discussion on Folk Music hosted by Cat Parker, the Artistic Director of Articulate Theatre Company. The panel participants included Stephen Petrus (curator of the recent "Folk City" exhibit at the Museum for the City of New York; and author of the book Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival); Phil Marsh (a singer-songwriter-guitarist based in New York City and the Bay Area, California); and Doug Yeager (who has been an integral member of the folk community for many years as an artist manager, booking agent, record producer, music publisher, concert promoter, and as a stage and film producer).

All of the actors who performed in the various plays presented during the evening were absolutely fabulous and extremely talented. The works themselves were a mixed bag. Many could have benefited from further development and re-writing. I would have liked to have seen a better integrating of the lyrics (and themes) from the folk songs into the scripts. Bara Swain showed potential in this regard with her entry, To Every Thing There Is A Season, where she hilariously incorporated lyrics from The Byrds' Turn! Turn! Turn! at a point when one friend was brushing off lint from her girlfriend's black dress at a funeral. 

Some of the other entries left you wondering. In Jamie Neumann's Train Rail, two hobos who can't handle the responsibilities of their lives meet in a train boxcar, and at the end, literally ask the question, "So what now?" In Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace, written by Kelly Zekas, it is unclear whether a woman's friend of 40-odd years loves her back in the same way. Denise Pence, who played Suzanne in this piece, was particularly impressive. She is a former "gypsy" whose time on Broadway led to her being the prototype for "Kristine" in A Chorus Line. Ms. Pence is a seasoned actress with a strong stage presence. It was a pleasure to see her in this production.  

Some of the plays deal with the issue of war and the negative effect it has on both civilians and soldiers alike. The Betrothal, written by Germaine Shames, tells the tale of a young Syrian girl with a headless doll, who is traumatized by war and living in her own fantasy world. Lay Down My Sword, written by Grant Bowen, takes place on the banks of the Alabama River, where an honorably discharged soldier is having trouble adjusting to civilian life and is contemplating suicide. A Confederate Soldier, well-played by Eric Percival, shares his own personal story with him. In The Autumn Mist, written by Robert Verlaque, a grandfather is still traumatized by what he experienced during the Vietnam War. Most memorable from this entry was that the play also featured a lazy ass, texting granddaughter who waited to the last minute to write a paper and when her grandfather refused to help, she and her mother tried to pressure him because, after all, as the girl said, "I need a good grade so I can get into a good college." It raises the important point that students need to take more responsibility for their own failures and not blame everything on their teachers. 

Babe I Hate To Go, written by Rhea MacCallum, deals with one of those fictitious visits dead people are said to make to the living just before going to heaven. Since I am not a believer in such supernatural visits, the story line did not resonate with me. However, Adam Perabo and Jennifer Wilson McGuire had good chemistry with one another and kept the audience engaged. 

The standout play of the evening was by far In Transit, written by Robin Rice, and starring Carolyn Seiff and Charlotte Hampden. Two women who don't like "girly things" meet in an Assisted Living facility in Chicago. Inspired by City of New Orleans, one woman is intent on getting to New Orleans to keep her appointment with the Switchmaster in the Sky, who set the schedule. The other woman, also a train enthusiast, is intent on staying in Chicago for the time being. They eventually become friends and decide to escape from the Nursing Home for a few hours to hitchhike down to the train station. This play contains an amazing list of songs written about trains and particular train routes. It also carries the inspirational message that it is never too late to make a new friend. Very impressive work!

If this evening is an example of the quality of work being produced by the Articulate Theatre Company, then I strongly recommend you check them out and attend future productions. For more information, visit 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Third Rail Projects' The Grand Paradise by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Third Rail Projects' The Grand Paradise was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Grand Paradise
Directed, Designed, Written & Choreographed
by Zach Morris, Tom Pearson & Jennine Willett
Original Music & Sound Design by Sean Hagerty
Costume Design by Karen Young
Scenic Design by Elisabeth Svenningsen
383 Troutman Street
Brooklyn, New York 11237
Reviewed 2/23/16  

You arrive in Bushwick, Brooklyn looking for 383 Troutman Street. You will not find it. All you will see are metal doors and buildings with graffiti written on the outside. No lights. No marque. No outside greeter. Eventually, you will figure out which door to open since it has a small piece of paper glued to the outside telling you where you need to be. When entering, you will show your identification, check your coat if you want to, use the unisex bathroom, and purchase tokens for drinks you can redeem in the boarding area or at the Shipwreck Lounge later in the evening. For $150.00 a ticket paid by 60 guests (as opposed to 15 a showing at Third Rail Projects' Then She Fell), I would think The Grand Paradise experience should be able to offer guests two free drink tickets at the minimum. It doesn't. In groups, you are led down a hallway where you watch a short Finis Air flight safety announcement video where you are told to treat all performers with respect, to not open any closed doors, and to put away any video or recording devices. 

An airline hostess takes your boarding pass, and presto, you have arrived at The Grand Paradise, a late 1970s-style tropical resort. You are greeted with a lei and left to wander around the main room filled with fake flowers and rock formations, cabanas, and dancers appearing up above and under water while the remainder of the 60 attendees get processed. I arrived in the main waiting area at 6:50 p.m. and basically stood around for nearly a half hour. Guests did not talk to one another, some explored rooms with open doors, others viewed the dancing, but very little else happened. I was eventually asked by a company member if I was having a good time and quickly responded no. If  the entire company was used as a greeting staff, handing out free mini-drinks (perhaps non-alcoholic pina colada) and engaging guests in conversation, shoulder massages, and facilitating introductions with other guests, then this early meet and greet might have meant something. Instead, attendees basically stood around like dummies waiting for something to happen.

The story told is that The Grand Paradise is built on a "Fountain of Youth" where your desire to stay young is granted as long as you drink the water. There is a lot of ceremonial water drinking (but no water for the guests) and company members may engage you in pseudoscience and superstitious talk asking for your astrological sign, reading your palms, and encouraging you to make a wish after throwing a penny into a wishing well. This is a place where all your desires are supposed to be quenched. The resort consists of a beach with a lifeguard station (but no water), a disco dance floor, a grotto with statuary, cabanas, one-person beach-side changing rooms, small bedrooms for late-night encounters, and a maritime-themed bar named "Shipwrecked" (complete with a Space Mission pinball machine). Above the bar hangs a boat with a hole in it named the "Elisabeth." I wonder whether it is a coincidence that the person responsible for the scenic design of this production is named "Elisabeth" Svenningsen. If you are stuck in a dark closet or a cabana, use the flashlight and open the cabinet doors. Hidden secrets may be revealed. 

As the show begins, a family of four (what appeared to me to be a mother, father and two children, a boy and a girl, of barely legal age) arrives with a trolley full of vintage baggage. What will become of them throughout the evening? They appear shy and inhibited but that may change before the end of their stay at The Grand Paradise. After all, the real theme of this show is about "Young Love, Lost Love, and New Love." Above all else, I always remind people that Third Rail Projects is primarily a dance company. In the program, it is described as "one of the foremost companies creating site-specific, immersive, experimental dance-theater in the United States." Modern dance is used to entertain and to tell a variety of stories. The dancing in this production is well-integrated into the storyline and a pleasure to watch. Although no two individuals will have the same experience at The Grand Paradise, the two dance numbers that stood out for me was one involving "first-love" between the underwater dancer and the young daughter of the uptight family; and the attempted seduction of the young boy in that family by a group of dancers encouraging him to embrace his homosexual orientation. A later nude beach scene with the same boy revealed nothing but a miniature pig-in-a-blanket, which was quite disappointing and a let-down for the eager onlookers peeking through the slats of changing rooms located just off the beach. As a police officer on the beat might have said, "Move along. Move along. Nothing to see here!" Giving him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he is "a grower, not a shower." 

All of the dancers who bring The Grand Paradise to life are extremely talented performers and are very attractive. The choreography is inspired and utilized to exhibit sexuality and/or to tell a story. As doors close and open, you find yourself experiencing what is in a particular room. One of mine had a mandatory conga-line-style dance. The groups you are a part of tend to get smaller and smaller until, eventually, you may find yourself alone sitting in a closet looking at 1970s Playboy magazines using a flashlight. Then a woman calls you into her bedroom where you choose a record to play and the dress you wish her to wear. You engage in a pillow fight, she intimately hugs you and, then, thanks you for the experience. These interactions seemed forced and were unusually uncomfortable. Not only didn't I have a choice as to whom I would want to spend this intimate time with but the company member didn't seem to have the skills to put a guest at ease. Choice was missing from this production. If I were at a real resort, I would have gravitated to the room with entertainment and guests who shared my interests. The company might have then tailored individual experiences for those particular guests. Instead, we were turned into voyeurs instead of participants. In a realistic interactive experience, I could communicate with company members and get a response in real time. Perhaps I might be asked what I was looking for and be directed to a particular room. But here, we are all treated like cattle, to be directed into stalls without regard for our individual tastes and interests.

That having been said, The Grand Paradise is an experience you will not want to miss. It is part of the happenings of our decade, just as Baird Jones parties were the place to be in the 1980s and 1990s. The vibe I got from the attendees here was the same I recall getting from parties held at The Limelight, The Underground, and The Tunnel. These are cool artists, hipsters, and individuals making a contribution to the culture of our time. Be part of The Zeitgeist by going to The Grand Paradise, which runs through May 29, 2016. Tickets cost between $95.00 and $150.00 depending on the day you see it, when you purchase your ticket, and whether you go to see a late or early show. For more information, you can call 718-374-5196 or visit 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Joseph Simonelli's Men Are Dogs at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church (Bay Ridge) by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Joseph Simonelli's Men Are Dogs at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church (Bay Ridge) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Men Are Dogs
Written by Joseph Simonelli
Directed by Dawn Barry Hansen
St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church
Aldo Bruschi Auditorium
9511 Fourth Avenue
Bay Ridge, New York 11209
Reviewed 2/20/16

The play features a cynical, unethical middle-aged psychologist, Dr. Monahan, who lives with his mother (a woman who doesn't respect his son's privacy and who secretly listens in on his sessions with patients) and maintains a practice that caters to single, divorced and married men trying to deal with the anger they feel as a result of having been cheated on, lied to, and used by the women in their lives. Dr. Monahan hires unsuspecting women to take part in "role-playing" during the group therapy sessions. These "role-playing" bi-weekly support groups are, in fact, Monahan's twisted version of an exercise to enable the men to therapeutically express their anger, but instead of using pillows or other harmless items, he encourages his "nuts" to physically assault the women during these one-on-one encounters. Those assaults include being slapped in the face, given a black eye, having water poured on her blouse, being kicked in the private parts, and being stomped on after being thrown to the ground. When she complains, Dr. Monahan reminds her she is being paid $60.00 an hour to put up with the vicious beat downs. Most of the women leave after one session but some even return saying they enjoyed getting beaten up. With every slap, every punch, every kick inflicted on these poor young women by the frustrated, angry men, the audience members howl with uncontrollable laughter. It seems they can't get enough of the violence. The more serious the injury, the louder they laugh! 

Wait! Wait! I got it wrong. I just checked my program and it appears Dr. Monahan, the relationship psychologist, is a woman (Cecilia) and her patients are also women. Cecilia hires unsuspecting men to take part in the "role playing" and to suffer the extensive physical violence and abuse. (By the way, consent to a crime is not an affirmative defense. All the women who assaulted the men during the role-playing sessions can be sued for battery in Civil Court, and arrested for battery in accordance with the criminal law. Dr. Monahan should lose her license to practice.) I should have known I had the gender element of the story line wrong because while in society today it is still hilarious when women beat up men, it is not that funny when men viciously beat up women. The truth is that no one deserves to be the victim of physical violence under any circumstances, whether you are a man or a woman.

In all fairness to the play, there are other funny lines and situations portrayed that might bring a smile to your face. One woman only dates cops. A second ended up dating a convicted bank robber, who she is considering still seeing because at least she knows where he is at night. Two others have had lesbian encounters. The actor, Tony, seemed open to trying out the "role-playing" job because as he pointed out, "Tony spelled backwards is "Y-Not." Dr. Monahan also reports she co-wrote a book she was going to call "Men Are Dogs" but changed her mind because "that would be unfair to the dogs." One of the other women even wrote a song entitled "Men Are Dogs" whose lyrics are sung to the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Then there are the times when mother and daughter speak explicitly about how they are looking for men with big penises to have sex with. Rose Monahan, who has been married three times, is about to "date" Romano, a man she met in cooking class. She says, "when he took off his apron, I noticed he had a pretty big spatula." Rose's daughter Cecilia prays directly to God to bring her a man with a big penis (not exactly the expected subject matter of requests made to the Supreme Being). Overhearing that line was Bob Crowley, who appears to deliver more than just packages on his route. Bob said Carpe Diem and Rose thought it was French. (It's really Latin and means "Seize The Day.")

The outstanding cast member by far was Jennifer Prezioso, who played Allison Taylor, the girl with "daddy issues," who only dates men whose first name starts with the letter "B". She and her sister opened a hair salon called Hair Apparent but she didn't understand the play on words. Ms. Prezioso was last seen as Nurse MacGregor in the Narrows Community Theater production of South Pacific. She was a bright light in this otherwise mediocre production of a less than interesting play. The remaining actors were merely serviceable in their respective parts and many were miscast. Allison Greaker kept stumbling over her lines in the lead role of Dr. Cecilia Monahan, and the age difference between her and Bob Crowley, weirdly portrayed by James McDermott, made their March-October relationship not only unlikely but off-putting as well. Neither exhibited any sex appeal. I normally don't have problems with age differences in relationships but seeing a matronly, drunken, overweight, middle aged woman throw herself on top of a young man, who could have easily been her son, was not something I enjoyed watching. There were no major problems with the remaining cast members: Christa Comito (Rose Monahan), Greg Mueller (Tony Rumson), Victoria Herva-Castenada (Madeline Weinberg), Ava Cheung (Jane Rudolph), and Michele Manduchi (Loretta Morris). Their biggest misfortune was having been cast in this play in the first place.

Bob brings to the show the insight that as long as men stick to women's expected story lines, conflict can be avoided. What smart men say to women is designed to make them feel good and to tell them what they would like to hear. It isn't reality. Dr. Monahan's secret is that she is as lonely as her patients. Eventually, she puts herself out there one more time by calling a dentist her sister has set her up with. It gets me thinking of one of the last lines in the movie Gone With The Wind. Despite having gone through hell, Vivien Leigh's character Scarlet O'Hara reaffirms her commitment to face the future with optimism. As many of you may recall, that line was, "After all...tomorrow is another day." I guess the point is that despite all the drama in relationships, the up and downs, the obsessions, the jealousy, and the eventual breakup, that it is still worth while putting yourself out there and trying to find someone to make your lonely life a little less miserable. That is a view not shared by everyone. Many would prefer to avoid the "mental illness" often referred to as "romantic love."  

Instead of naming the play Men Are Dogs, perhaps Joseph Simonelli should have instead called it We're All Immoral Sex-Crazed Animals (& Deserve What We Get). All of the characters in this show are having sexual intercourse with same-sex and opposite-sex partners whether they are single, divorced or still married. Even elderly Rose goes out on a first "date" with the expectation she will have sex and may stay overnight at Romano's house. Given the subject matter, I was surprised to see this play produced in the auditorium of a Roman Catholic Church. The playwright, Joseph Simonelli, went to St. Patrick's Grammar School (Class of 1971) and Xaverian High School. Men Are Dogs was first produced in 2003 at the First Avenue Playhouse in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey.

Narrows Community Theater is an exceptional community theater company. It has a very friendly staff and reasonably priced concession items. Men Are Dogs plays through February 28, 2016. Tickets are available ($20.00 for Adults; $15.00 for Seniors) by calling 718-482-3173 or by e-mailing The show is not appropriate for children. If my review piqued your interest, you can obtain more information at:  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Seussical: The Musical at The Gallery Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

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

Seussical: The Musical 
Director/Co-Choreographer: Barrie Gelles
Music Director: Trevor M. Pierce
Choreographer: Emily Clark
Costume Design: Joey Haws
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens 
Book by Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty
Co-Conceived by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty & Eric Idle
The Gallery Players 
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 2/7/16

After Seussical: The Musical had a New York City reading and was work shopped in Toronto in 1999, it had its out-of-town tryout in Boston, Massachusetts at the Colonial Theatre in September 2000. It opened on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on November 30, 2000, and after 198 performances and 34 previews, it closed on May 20, 2001. The production received lukewarm reviews, with critics focusing on the huge cast of characters and the unsympathetic plot lines. The script for the first national tour (2002-03) was extensively reworked resulting in the removal and rewriting of several songs. Additional dialogue was also added. It is this version of the musical that has enjoyed success in community and regional theater. A 90-minute Off-Broadway production was staged at the Lucille Lortel Theatre from July 19th to August 17th in 2007 by Theatreworks USA. That show was then downscaled for another National Tour, which took its final bow in Spring 2014. 

The best production of Seussical: The Musical you will ever see is currently being performed at The Gallery Players in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I have seen many other attempts to successfully stage this musical and I can say with 100% confidence that this rendition is extraordinary and exceptional. 17 actors portray 78 different Seuss characters, and The Cat In The Hat wears 20 different hats during the course of the show. The beautifully designed set is the center of the action. During each of the two acts, no actor leaves the stage. They change on stage and lighting is used to focus the attention of the audience. There are 38 perfectly sung musical numbers, an extremely interesting story line, almost perfect performances by talented, charismatic actors, and important messages "to think" such as to be loyal and to respect your fellow man, even Whos, because "a person is a person no matter how small."

The plot centers around Horton, the elephant, who while bathing in the Jungle of Nool, hears a strange noise coming from a speck of dust. The Whos introduce themselves and their community and he makes friends with Jojo, who recently got in trouble in school for "having Thinks" disrupting the class and horrifying the teachers. Jojo is sent to "take a bath and go to bed, and Think some normal Thinks instead." Jojo imagines the tub is McElligot's Pool and floods the living room. His parents send him to Military School under the supervision and persuasion of General Genghis Khan Schmitz who is preparing to go to war with those who eat their bread butter side down. Horton learns that in addition to being unable to control where their dust speck goes, all their beautiful Truffula Trees have been cut down. Horton rescues the speck and places it on a blue clover, resolving to protect it. However, since only he can hear the voices of the citizens of Who, all the other animals in the jungle, led by Sour Kangaroo, mock him mercilessly, except for Gertrude McFuzz, Horton's next door neighbor, who admires his compassion and begins to fall in love with him. Horton is ambushed by a gang of monkeys called the Wickersham Brothers, who steal the clover. Horton gives chase until the monkeys give the clover to a black-bottomed eagle named Vlad Vladikoff, who drops it into a large patch of identical clovers "one-hundred miles wide." After searching 2,999,999 clovers, Horton loses hope. He sees Mayzie La Bird high in a nest in a tree sitting on an egg, left to her by Tweet McFirth after "three weeks of bliss." Mayzie persuades Horton to sit on the egg for a few weeks while she goes off on holiday. Mayzie doesn't return and Horton is captured by hunters.

In New York City, Horton is auctioned off to Circus McGurkus. After going on the road and "sitting on the egg for 51 weeks, sitting here while people have paid to take peeks," Horton meets up with Mayzie again, who insists he keep the egg as a dubious gift. Horton, betrayed and alone, sorrowfully remembers how no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't save the Whos, or poor Jojo. Realizing the egg also is alone without its mother, he declares he'll do better than try, and will protect the little egg with everything he has. Gertrude McFuzz sneaks into the circus and frees Horton. She professes her love for him and reveals she also found Horton's clover. The happiness is short-lived. Sour Kangaroo and the Wickersham Brothers appear, kidnapping Horton, and dragging him back to the Jungle of Nool to be put on trial for "talking to a speck, disturbing the peace, and loitering on an egg." The Cat In The Hat plays the bailiff and Judge Yertle The Turtle presides over the case. The verdict is for Horton to the be remanded to the Nool Asylum For The Criminally Insane, and the clover is to be boiled in a kettle of Beezle-Nut oil. Horton encourages the Whos to make as much noise as they can to prove they exist. Their efforts fail until Jojo comes up with a new word, YOPP, his shouting of which reverberates throughout the world and finally makes the Whos heard. The Court acquits Horton and the Sour Kangaroo ends her wicked ways and decides to do her part in protecting the clover. On Who, Jojo is celebrated for his achievement and is honored as "Thinker Non-Stop!" Suddenly, the egg hatches, and to everyone's surprise, a tiny flying Elephant-Bird emerges. Horton panics and asks Gertrude what he should do. She responds, "I have wings, yes I can teach him earth, and I will teach him sky." They agree to raise the child together as mother and father. The audience is left with a final inspirational thought, "Imagine all the thinks you can think when you think about Seuss!"

Considering that Seussical: The Musical is often performed before an audience of children and the day I saw it at The Gallery Players featured a pre-show talk back with children 13 years of age and under, I was surprised by the many political and social messages written into the script. Mayzie La Bird explicitly had pre-marital sex with Tweet McFirth leaving her with the egg. It is also possible that Horton and Mayzie had a prior sexual encounter, which would explain the hatching of the flying Elephant-Bird. Gertrude McFuzz's love interest in Horton speaks to the acceptability of inter species (or interracial marriage) and her concern over not having enough feathers reflects the self-consciousness many women have regarding their looks. Even the political issue of the capture of animals placed in zoos for human entertainment is addressed. There are also messages regarding the importance of tolerance, respecting others, breaking with conventional thinking, and being loyal to your obligations, responsibilities, and commitments. You could write a doctoral thesis on the themes presented in this musical, which makes it substantive and interesting.

My three favorite performers in this production were Adrian Rifat (Horton), Paula Galloway (Sour Kangaroo) and Jesse Manocherian (The Cat). Adrian Rifat successfully portrayed the emotional depth, frustrations and struggles faced by Horton (his grandmother would be proud). Wearing over-sized baggy coverall jeans, Mr. Rifat was totally believable in the role and was a large part of the show's success. Paula Galloway has a strong stage presence and excelled as the villain, Sour Kangaroo. Jesse Manocherian as The Cat did a fine job as the sometimes master of ceremonies and Jojo's inspiration. The main story in this musical is about Horton and the manner in which Mr. Manocherian played The Cat permitted Horton to be the main focus of attention. The rest of the cast was excellent in every respect with the exception of Marc Winski, a stutterer, who was cast as Jojo. Mr. Winski has said he is "a proud owner of a stutter" and has spoken about how "to use stuttering to get noticed." That is certainly what happened here. His stuttering on stage was very distracting and he should not have been cast for the role. There is no place in the theater (as in sports) for "affirmative action" hiring. The fact we are even talking about this reflects a culture where excellence is no longer valued. Everyone gets a trophy for participating, "teams" no longer keep score, there are no more losers because you wouldn't want to hurt any one's feelings, and some blacks cry "racism" when a performance by an African-American actor is not deemed worthy of an Academy Award nomination. As for stuttering actors, I don't think pride is the issue here. If I had a physical handicap, I would not say I was proud to have that disability. I would work to overcome it and not use guilt, pity or political correctness to coerce others to cast me in a role for which other more capable actors were available.

That having been said, Seussical: The Musical is a must-see. Everyone involved can be extremely proud of the contribution they made to the show's success. I believe serious consideration should be given to taking this show on the road. It is an audience-pleaser you will want to see again and again. Seussical: The Musical will run through February 21, 2016. For more information and tickets, visit 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Seussical: The Musical at The Gallery Players by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Seussical: The Musical at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Seussical: The Musical 
Director/Co-Choreographer: Barrie Gelles
Music Director: Trevor M. Pierce
Choreographer: Emily Clark
Costume Design: Joey Haws
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens 
Book by Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty
Co-Conceived by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty & Eric Idle
The Gallery Players 
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 2/7/16

When I was a young person, my speech therapist introduced me to The Cat In The Hat by Dr. Seuss. Although I never owned a work by him, I have read every book of the sixty plus books he wrote as well as a biography. As I entered old age, I read one of his last works, Oh, The Places You'll Go!. Of all these books, the most memorable to me are Green Eggs & Ham, Horton Hatches An Egg, Horton Hears A Who!, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! in addition to And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.

Dr. Seuss's real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel. After being caught drinking gin (during Prohibition) with nine friends in his dorm room at Dartmouth College, he was banned from participating in extracurricular activities, and was forced to resign his editorship of Jack-O-Lantern, the college's humor magazine. He continued to secretly contribute work to the Jack-O-Lantern without the administration's knowledge, using various aliases including L. Pasteur, D.G. Rossetti '25, T. Seuss, and Seuss (his mother's maiden name). He attended the University of Oxford but left in 1927 to begin his career as an illustrator and cartoonist for Vanity Fair and Life. As a magazine cartoonist, he began signing his work under the mock-scholarly title of "Dr. Theophrastus Seuss" in 1927, which he shortened to "Dr. Seuss" in 1928. In 1955, Dartmouth gave him his first honorary doctorate. He would eventually receive several more honorary degrees, including one from Princeton. By pursuing his love of drawing, Ted Geisel became one of the few people to earn a Ph.D. by dropping out of graduate school. 

He worked as an illustrator for several advertising campaigns, most notably for Flit (a common bug spray) and Standard Oil, and as a patriotic, pro-FDR, non-isolationist political cartoonist for P.M., a liberal New York City newspaper. Geisel became a successful freelance commercial artist during The Great Depression drawing advertising for General Electric, NBC, Standard Oil, and Narragansett Brewing Company. He and his wife were soon able to move from living over a stable in Greenwich Village to better accommodations. He did not have to work regular office hours and traveled with his wife to thirty foreign countries before World War II. When the United States entered World War II, he began drawing posters for the U.S. Treasury and the U.S. War Production Board.

In 1943, Geisel joined the Army as a Captain in charge of the Animation Department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces, where he wrote and directed the Private Snafu series of adult army training films. He also wrote propaganda films including Your Job In Germany and Our Job In Japan that warned soldiers not to let down their guard against the defeated enemy. While in the Army, he was awarded the Legion of Merit. Design For Death (1947), a study of Japanese culture, won an Oscar for Best Documentary and Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950), based on an original story by Seuss, won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film. All this, as well as his later work, earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.  

If it were not for a fortuitous opportunity, Dr. Seuss might not have become a household name. In May 1954, Life magazine published a report on illiteracy among school children which concluded that children were not learning how to read because their books were boring. William Ellsworth Spaulding, the director of the education division of Houghton Mifflin, responded to these concerns by compiling a list of 348 words he felt were important for first-graders to recognize. He asked Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and to write a book that children could not put down. Geisel responded with The Cat In The Hat, which has never been out of print since it was published in 1956. His children's books sell in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year even today decades after they were written and he died. They remain timeless bestsellers that speak to people of all generations and of every age and time. Quite appropriately, Geisel's birthday, March 2nd. has been adopted as the annual date for National Read Across America Day, an initiative on reading created by the National Education Association. 

As a result of my intimate knowledge of Dr. Seuss and his characters, I was extremely pleased to once again enter the world of Dr. Seuss when I saw Seussical: The Musical at The Gallery Players in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Justine McLaughlin, the producer, brought together a talented group of performers who created a colorful world where characters drawn from different Dr. Seuss books interacted with one another in accordance with the dictates of a new story all set to music and song. The show was ably directed by Barrie Gelles. The singing and acting worked well together. Emily Clark, Co-Choreographer with Barrie Gelles, made certain the moves of the actors matched the plot. Trevor M. Pierce, the Music Director, never missed a beat when providing the music with his talented musicians. Roxanne Goodby as Props Designer, Paul M. Radassao as Scenic Designer, and Joe Haws, as Costume Designer, enabled the actors to become the characters of Dr. Seuss through complementing each other's work. The lighting by Dan Jobbins highlighted the action while sound design by Jorge Olivo enabled us to hear the actors emote at their very best.

Adrian Rifat was the standout performer amongst an outstanding cast of actors. You could not image anyone else playing Horton, the elephant. Ashley Harris successfully portrayed the personality of the despicable Mayzie LaBird, who leaves poor Horton with her egg and flies off to Palm Beach for the year instead of returning after two hours. I was so angry, I thought about eating her for supper. Stephen Foster Harris did a fine job as the Mayor. 

Before I address the issue of affirmative action in acting, let me state that although I am not a stutterer, I have had over twenty years of speech therapy to overcome a host of problems when I was young and even had speech therapy in my fifties to overcome issues that had not been resolved earlier. As a Tour Guide and College Professor, I have given hundreds of speeches. I have taught in college for the past twenty years. Therefore, in my opinion, it was a disservice to the audience not to cast the best possible actor, amateur or professional, for the role of "Jojo." Among stutterers who did not need affirmative action to succeed have been: Joe Biden, Vice-President of the United States; Emily Blunt, Actress; Russ Hicks, Award-winning public speaker in Toastmasters; James Earl Jones, Actor; Walt Manning, speech-language pathologist & Professor at the University of Memphis, an author of textbooks on stuttering; Marilyn Monroe, Actress; Jack Parr, Radio & Television Announcer; John Stossel, News Reporter and former ABC Co-Anchor; and Mel Tillis, Country Singer.

Marc Winski, a stutterer (who according to his bio is a proud advocate/leader in the NYC stuttering community) was cast to play Jojo. While I am certain Winski has the charisma and potential to be a fine actor, his stuttering was a major distraction to me. Instead of moving to employ affirmative action criteria in the professional theater, perhaps some community theaters and a few off-Broadway houses can go the way of sponsoring a "Special Theater Olympics" where all kinds of alternative casting and handicapped individuals can be given the opportunity to shine in front of their friends and family. Winski, anticipating the negative reaction of audience members, tells them in advance he thinks their opinions don't matter. Specifically, he placed in his bio the following Dr. Seuss quotation, "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." If you are trying to make a delicious cake and choose not to use flour and sugar, even though it is available, you shouldn't be surprised the cake doesn't turn out to be as tasty as it ought to be. I wonder how long any play would run if it were cast on the basis of political correctness instead of talent. The marketplace would teach a punishing lesson as empty seats applauded such a course of action.

Let me end with a few quotations by Dr. Seuss:

Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.

Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.

And don't forget to see this play! It is an absolute delight! Seussical: The Musical plays through Sunday, February 21, 2016. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit 

Applause! Applause! Review of Claude Solnik's Pedro Castillo Is Innocent at Theater For The New City by Kathy Towson

This review of Claude Solnik's Pedro Castillo Is Innocent at Theater For The New City was written by Kathy Towson and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Pedro Castillo Is Innocent
Written by Claude Solnik
Directed by Danielle C.N. Zappa
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 2/12/16

Pedro Castillo Is Innocent was co-produced by Theater For The New City and The Textile Company (one of its resident companies), which has in its Mission Statement the goal of "weaving" true stories into the theatrical works the company produces. I am always appreciative of any play that tries to make a social statement for change and I was very intrigued when I learned Pedro Castillo Is Innocent was inspired by a powerful and tragic true story. Claude Solnik, the playwright, worked as a reporter for The Villager and Downtown Express and covered the case of the wrongful 18-year imprisonment of Fernando Bermudez, who was falsely accused of murder. Bermudez's photo was picked by several witnesses who later recanted but it took until 2009 for Bermudez to finally be declared "innocent." I enthusiastically prepared myself for what I was about to see and was further encouraged by the clever atmosphere created by Alex Vartanian (Lights and Sound) as I took my seat. Chains clanging and the haunting sound of a clock ticking appropriately underscored the show prior to it starting and between scenes.

The apparent root of the problem and the reason stated in the program as to why it took so long to get Bermudez exonerated is that "prosecutors refuse to admit their mistakes." However, the play itself did not go into the details of the actual case to sufficiently explain why multiple appeals courts, with full knowledge of the recants, continued to deny his applications and motions to overturn his conviction. We are also left in the dark regarding the specifics of the efforts made on Bermudez' behalf. Rather than offer the audience repetitive flashbacks of the appeals and denials, it might have been more interesting had the play been written to include characters playing real-life people who were essential in helping Bermudez get out of prison, such as Barry Pollack, who took on the case pro bono, Maryann Dibari, the defense attorney, and Mike Gaynor, the NYPD homicide detective). The multiple flashbacks to the appeals process became predictable, repetitive and anti-climactic due to insufficient information and build up leading to each appeal.

Pedro Castillo (played by John Torres) insists on his innocence despite everyone's pleadings (including his wife, played by Christine Copley) that he "just admit his guilt," which, in the play, the parole board kept insisting was "the beginning of rehabilitation" that would expedite his release. However, sticking to his principles, he refuses to say he did something he knows he didn't, and, predictably, the Parole Board continues to deny his release. We feel his frustration, not due to our empathy for his plight and denied appeals, but rather because we have no idea why the appeals are being denied. This is missing information the characters, and not the audience, seem to have. Therefore, the frustration and the tragedy of each denial had little to no emotional impact for the audience.

It is unfortunate that even the scenes with his attorney (in the performance I saw Kimberly Gomez, stepped into the part) don't give the audience much clarification. It seemed unrealistic that during every meeting between Angela, the attorney, and Pedro, Angela seems to have been given "actor business" by the director to fill out forms and check files instead of the more plausible scenario of focusing on her client and knowing, without needing to refer to her papers, that his appeal had been once again denied. Additionally, it would have been good to be educated as an audience member, as to what Angela was specifically trying to do in her capacity as his lawyer. So many of the technicalities of the appeals were skimmed over, which, if provided, would have added some insight for the audience and made the play more engaging. The direction by Danielle C.N. Zappa also did not give the two actors room to explore the more-than-professional connection alluded to by Mrs. Castillo; namely, that Angela was developing feelings for her husband (which would have added a very interesting dimension to the story - even if taking artistic license and departing from the actual real-life happenings). As a result, when Gwen Castillo confronts Angela towards the end of the play with "just admit you love him too," it was not based on anything we observed in the writing or directing.

Much of the directing seemed to have missed the opportunity to create these connections. When the wife and daughter Kaela (played by Samantha Masone) visit Pedro in prison, they profess their love and the fact that they miss him and yet, when they go to say goodbye, even in the early days of visitation (before believable emotional distance could set in), the goodbyes are portrayed as though the young actors were shy about engaging in an actual physical touch or kiss. [Research into prison visitation revealed that for spouses/family, a kiss goodbye is permissible.]

The breath of fresh air in this production was Michael H. Carlin, who played Pedro Castillo's fellow inmate, Santos. The actor was very connected to his character's emotions and intentions. He played the role with a realism and conviction that made me truly fear him when he threatened Pedro. However, he also made me laugh with him, and even empathize with him, in the final monologue,

A great deal of time was spent on the fact that Castillo did a lot of reading (met with the unbelievable ignorance of the Guard (played by Michael J. Shanahan) who apparently never heard of Moby Dick (even though he knew of Dostoevsky -- really!!?) Although the Guard confesses at the end that he was just feigning ignorance, it is never explained why.

Much is revealed in a final set of monologues that were the saving grace of the show. They exhibited the potential writing talent of the playwright, which was unfortunately not fully evident throughout. During these final monologues, the actors connected the varying unexplained elements of the piece, and finally, its message and intentions were made clear. I just wish the rest of the play had given us a more in-depth view and insight into what this family and this man had really gone through instead of trying to "lecture us" and "connect the dots" regarding what the entire play was trying to say, using "wrap up" monologues encapsulated in fortune cookies handed out only after the main meal had already been served.

The exchanges between the wife and daughter are superficial and mundane (the wife had to plow her own driveway; the daughter wants a cell phone) throughout until, again, at the end, we FINALLY hear from both how difficult this separation has been and, unfortunately, by then, it is too late to develop a real sense of caring for the plight of these characters. The program states that Crystal Bermudez and Fernando Bermudez were married in prison AFTER he was convicted. This would have added another level to the relationship if revealed in the writing. Additionally, the fact that Bermudez was incarcerated at 22 years of age was missed in the acting, writing, and directing. John Torres appears to be a much older Pedro Castillo throughout, even in flashbacks - another missed opportunity for the audience to go on a young man's transitional journey, and thereby build empathy over the course of the two hours and see how prison life actually aged him. John Torres (as Pedro Castillo) appears to me to have been miscast in the lead role.

The time that could have been devoted to this character exploration was given to the appearance in dreams of the "Liberty" character (played by Stephanie Sottile). Here, it appears the director employed her own background in dance to have this character "dance" around his cell - a confusing and distracting action. I understand that Liberty was supposed to be a symbol for a sometimes elusive and hard to gain "sense of freedom," but I found it personally offensive and question why this character needed to be portrayed as a sexy (as Ms. Sottile describes herself in her bio) "manipulative nymph." The way in which this character was written and/or directed added nothing to the plot. Again, a missed opportunity to show, via truly intense dreams, the anguish, and despair that Bermudez must have felt, or insights into the true harshness of his surroundings with some introspection on the part of the Castillo character.

It was evident the playwright has a varied pen - sometimes with obvious and disappointing, overused cliches like "this is shit on a shingle" or "what do I look like, a mango tree?" and then delighting and surprising us with brilliant characters, like Santos, truly beautiful imagery in the poem with the verse, "No rain falls inside prison walls..."; clever lines like "we are all in prisons"; "you can't unscramble eggs, you just have to get new ones"; or great insights like "memories keep running away, let them come to you."

Although I felt the production missed the mark in many regards and failed to take advantage of the opportunity to take us on an emotional journey, having read the statistics on false imprisonment, this is a story that definitely needed to be told. I was moved by the true-life history and anguish that the Bermudez family endured and from which Pedro Castillo Is Innocent was born. I only wish their story had been told better.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Written by Christopher Durang
Directed by Jordan Hue
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 2/5/16  

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike was commissioned by the McCarter Theatre (Princeton, New Jersey), in association with the Lincoln Center Theater. The play, originally a one-act, ran at the McCarter Theatre from September 7, 2012, to October 14, 2012. It opened Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater on November 12, 2012 (after previews from October 25th) and ran until January 20, 2013. The show opened on Broadway on March 14, 2013 at the John Golden Theatre (after previews beginning on March 5th). The play closed on August 25, 2013, after 201 performances on Broadway. The play received six Tony Award nominations, and won the Tony Award for Best Play. 

The story revolves around three middle-aged siblings. Vanya (who is gay), and Sonia (who was adopted), live in their parents' Bucks County, Pennsylvania home, even after their parents died from Alzheimer's Disease. Masha, an aging actress, married five times, who is not earning the money she once did, returns home to attend a costume party at a house formally owned by Dorothy Parker, with Spike (Vlad) in tow. Spike's biggest claim to fame is that he nearly landed a part in Entourage 2. Masha and Spike have been dating for three months and Masha is insecure about whether she can keep the interest of this young, clearly oversexed, narcissistic stud, who appears to be developing an attraction for Nina, a beautiful young woman who is the niece of  their next door neighbor. Masha has been paying all the bills and giving Vanya and Sonia a monthly stipend, especially since they both stayed at home to take care of their elderly parents, professors who dabbled in community theater and named their children after Chekhov characters. Masha drops the news she can no longer afford to pay for their idle, sedentary lifestyles and intends to sell the family home, which even contains "a cherry orchard" of at least 10 trees. The only other character is a cleaning woman named Cassandra, who is into voodoo and goes around making dire prophecies that turn out to be remarkably accurate. In the end, Sonia gets asked out on a date. We also learn that Vanya has been secretly writing a play based on the life of a talking molecule after life on earth ends. Spike admits he is having a relationship with Masha's personal assistant. Masha tells Spike to leave and decides not to sell the house after all. In the end, the three siblings sit together on a wicker bench looking out over the pond waiting for a Blue Heron to appear while The Beatles's song, "Here Comes The Sun", plays in the background.

What is to be made of this play? Is it really a comedy? Perhaps it is a tragedy. The three central characters are full of self-delusions and self-pity. All have reached the stage of life where their options have narrowed considerably. Sonia has never really had a relationship and has no interest in getting a job or starting a career. She explains that one of the two most exciting moments of her day is getting Vanya his morning coffee. She would have a sexual and romantic relationship with Vanya if he were interested but we learn Vanya marches to the beat of a different drummer. The only problem is that he, too, has never done anything that would give him the prospect of meeting someone special. All he has done is to write a play in secret about the end of the world while harboring anger toward everyone and everything new. He screams at Spike after he returned a text message during an informal reading of his play, and rails against the modern world. He confesses he has no idea what Entourage 2 is, and longs for a simpler time. He criticizes Walt Disney for firing actor Tommy Kirk (after a mother complained to the studio that 22-year old Kirk had entered into a relationship with her 15-year-old son, who he met at a public pool). Perhaps Vanya identifies with the sexual attraction Tommy Kirk had to that teenage boy, which might explain why he is so uncomfortable when Spike strips down to his underwear in front of him. (As Masha says, "Spike knows what his audience wants.") In the end, Vanya confesses he "worries about the future and misses the past." Masha, reflecting on her own life, finally realizes after five failed marriages that, "The roots I do have are here with you two." Nina, who met an actress she admired, got invited to a wonderful party, and might have found an agent through Spike, is the little ray of sunshine in the play who says to Sonia, "You must always get your hopes up!"

While the play is uneven and not always funny in the traditional sense, there are a few humorous lines, such as when Masha returns from her costume party upset because even though she was dressed as Snow White, people at the party assumed she was Norma Desmond or perhaps even a Hummel figurine. Anne Marie Finnie was perfect as Masha bringing that character's egotist, selfish, jealous personality front and center, with each line delivered as a grand performance. Tom Brown excelled as the attractive, but dim-witted Spike. He still has a youthful enough body so no audience member cried out for him to put his clothes back on. Gary Tifeld, as Vanya, and Janine Innamorato-Haire, as Sonia, did a fine job portraying the depressed and dysfunctional stay-at-home provincials who have never really lived. They were both quite believable in their roles, as was Kate Keating, who was Cassandra. The best performance of the evening was by Nicole Intravia, a charismatic and talented actress, who played the perky and ambitious Nina. Perhaps all these characters, as well as the audience members, can benefit listening to the advice of Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who advised people on his television show, "to build your life on a strong foundation."

Jordan Hue deserves credit for his fine direction. He also provides insight on the play is his directorial note, which reads in part, as follows: "...the show is funny because of its tragedy, not in spite of it. Sonia's desperation for a better future and Vanya's wistful longing for the past create a high-tension wire on which life's changes, big, small, and absurd are given license to dance. Masha's fading star and last grasp at youth is painful and hilarious; Spike is a caricature of all that is wrong with the oversexed millennial culture and its obsession with fame. The other characters, including Cassandra, the prophetic house cleaner, and Nina, the young, aspiring actress next door raise the stakes by providing valuable perspective: the looming specter of the future, fraught with peril but fresh with hopefulness. Vanya, Sonia, and Masha may have lost their way somewhere in the woods. The ball was not all it was cracked up to be. The charming prince turned out to be a scoundrel. And yet they all strive to overcome, to find their way back together and home again. The prize in the clearing at the end of the path is not fortune or glory, but optimism." Here comes the sun!

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike plays at Studio Theatre Long Island through Sunday, February 21, 2016. Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased at Don't miss this opportunity to see this excellent production of the 2013 Tony Award winner for Best Play. I guarantee it will make you feel much better about your own life!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of A Chorus Line at The Secret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of A Chorus Line at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Chorus Line
Originally Directed & Choreographed by Michael Bennett
Originally Co-Choreographed by Bob Avian
Book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Produced by Richard Mazda
Directed by Tom Rowan
Choreographed by Geena Quintos
Music Director: Evan Zavada
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, New York 11101
Reviewed 2/4/16  

The book for this musical was derived from several taped workshop sessions with Broadway dancers, known as "gypsies," including eight who appeared in the original cast. A Chorus Line opened Off-Broadway at The Public Theater on April 15, 1975. Producer Joseph Papp moved the show to Broadway, and on July 25, 1975, it opened at the Shubert Theatre, where it ran for 6,137 performances, closing on April 28, 1990. The production was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, winning nine: Best Musical, Best Musical Book, Best Score, Best Director, Best Choreography, Best Actress (Donna McKechnie), Best Featured Actor (Sammy Williams), Best Featured Actress (Kelly Bishop), and Best Lighting Design. The show also won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. When it closed, A Chorus Line was the longest running show in Broadway history. The 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater on October 5, 2006, closing August 17, 2008, after 759 performances and 18 previews. That production was directed by Bob Avian, with the choreography reconstructed by Baayork Lee, who had played Connie Wong in the original Broadway production. The revival was nominated for two Tony Awards: Best Revival of a Musical and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Charlotte d'Amboise).

Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of A Chorus Line winning the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1976, Richard Mazda has produced this most excellent tribute to the popular, moving and memorable musical. Tom Rowan, the author of the book A Chorus Line FAQ, directs the production and an extremely talented cast has been assembled to give modern audiences a glimpse into the life of chorus line dancers struggling to get their first break or fighting for one last job before they are considered too old to dance. Along the way, we are introduced to the individual journeys many of these dancers took to get here. A number of the stories are quite moving while others are very funny ("Imagine me a kindergarten teacher!"). Seventeen dancers in all are competing for 8 slots: four boys and four girls.

If you own and have listened to a CD of the musical numbers in A Chorus Line, you don't need me to refresh your recollection. You are probably already singing some of the songs in your head. But just in case the decades have taken a toll on you, let me remind you that some of the numbers include: "I Hope I Get It" (Company), "I Can Do That" (Mike), "At The Ballet" (Sheila, Bebe, Maggie), "Sing!" (Kristine, Al), "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love" ("If Troy Donahue can be a movie star, then I can be a movie star"; "Robert Goulet out, Steve McQueen in"), 'Nothing" (Diana), "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three" (Val) ("Orchestra & Balcony"), "The Music & The Mirror" (Cassie), "One" (Company) ("One, singular sensation, every little step she takes"), and "What I Did For Love" (Diana, Company). The exceptional musicians performing in the hidden live orchestra include Evan Zavada (Keyboard 1/Conductor), Dan Garmon (Keyboard 2/programming), Mike Livingston (Reeds), Matthew Feick (Drums), and Oliver Sohngen (Bass).

There are no weak links in the ensemble cast, and I regret I cannot mention everyone for the unique contribution they made to the success of this show. Particularly outstanding, however, was Jennifer Knox, who was the beloved Cassie (when she didn't make the cut in the 1970s, test audiences left depressed with a negative opinion of the musical) and Jonny Stein, who was Mike (extraordinarily talented although his flailing his arms about aimlessly during the ballet combinations in the early audition numbers needs to be seriously curtailed - no professional dancer would have acted in that manner). Kelly Barberito, brought in at the last moment to play Maggie, excelled in the part, as did the very charismatic Kevin Lagasse playing Al. Often forgotten are the two actors who provide the glue that holds the show together: Zach, the Director, and Larry, the Assistant Choreographer. This production of A Chorus Line had strong and believable actors in both roles: Matthew LaBanca as Zach, and Matthew V. Ranaudo as Larry. Two parts of the show dragged on just a little too long, eliciting audible comments from some audience members. The first was Paul's long dialogue, without music, regarding his participation in the Jewel Box Revue, and the second was the casts' extensive discussion about what they would all do if they weren't able to dance anymore. Note to Director: These segments need to be tightened up.
I highly recommend you see this production of A Chorus Line at The Secret Theatre. It contains an explosive finale that will leave you cheering. If you've seen A Chorus Line before, you will be pleased with this production. It deserves an extended run. If you haven't seen this show before, you now have the opportunity to experience it in the intimacy of a small black box theater, which brings you close to the action, draws you in emotionally, and engages you on every level. For the bargain price of $18.00 a ticket, you can't go wrong! A Chorus Line plays at The Secret Theatre through February 14, 2016. For more information, visit