Monday, October 17, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Dandy Darkly's Myth Mouth! at Under St. Mark's Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Dandy Darkly's Myth Mouth! at Under St. Mark's Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Dandy Darkly's Myth Mouth!
Written by Neil Arthur James
Performed as Dandy Darkly
Directed by Ian Bjorklund
Original Music by Adam Tendler, 
Rachel Blumberg & Bryce Edwards
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 10/14/16  

Dandy Darkly is a colorful, outrageous, performance artist with an incredible talent for telling dark tales using wordplay, alliteration, and a sophisticated soundtrack. His captivating presence commands your attention as this storyteller brings you on journeys through time and space. He surprises his audience by appearing on stage as a "killer clown" only to reveal he is really only a "performance art clown." Dressed in bejeweled shoes and a white Lycra bodysuit revealing his ample frame and abundant chest hair, Dandy Darkly literally brightens up the stage with his miniature white top hat adorned with lights. His constantly shifting, pointed shoulder pads (which he often needed to adjust), could poke someone's eye out, while his untucked protuberance (often referenced and grabbed) wasn't prominent enough to pose the same risk. His facial makeup perfectly matched his costume and helped introduce us to the myth-revealing Queer Nancy boy scheduled to take us on an intriguing journey into the past and future with pit stops on Earth and Mars (during life and in the afterlife) as we encounter well-meaning alien cats, patriotic dogs, flying space pyramids, a virtual reality character, a professor of anthropology, a Geisha android, Persephone, and Cha Cha, the first "artist" on the planet.

Cha Cha was a caveman of slight frame, unlike his well-built, sloth-hunting brethren. You could view Cha Cha as a Neanderthal, Stone Age sissy boy who was often beaten up and bullied. He suffered many broken bones and had to find a way to survive. He eventually realized if he created shadow creatures around the campfire (while telling hilarious stories - "All hail sloth slayer!" that made the alpha males laugh), they would throw him their sloth-meat scraps. As a result, Cha Cha was the world's first Jester and Mythmaker who single-handedly invented dinner theater. For inspiration, he started using psychedelic mushrooms, marijuana, and cocaine. To keep things fresh, he even discovered and wore a tiny Pope-hat (not unlike Dandy Darkly) after which he no longer only humorized, but also sermonized. Eventually, he was replaced by someone younger and hungrier who was waiting in the wings. In Cha Cha's case, that performer was Cher Cher. Down and almost out (snorting cocaine almost non-stop), he tried putting on a Comeback Show, which was a total flop. Cha Cha knew the show was not well-received when dung was flung at him while he performed on stage. The surly sentiment stunned Cha Cha and he wandered away into the wilderness prepared to accept his own death - and so went the career of the world's first artist.

Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, wife of Hades (the god-king of The Underworld) had a troubled life. Her own father displayed himself to her as "a fucking swan and bird-fucked her." Traumatized by the incest, she became a pernicious party girl and a persistent whore. Finding herself "Slut-Shamed by The Real Housewives of Olympus" and seeing that the male gods were often more sexually attracted to young men with "magic swords and firm butt cheeks," she was ambivalent when Hades "kidnapped her to Hell" to make her his bride and Empress of The Underworld. How ironic that Persephone, goddess of spring and of flowers, eventually flourished in the dark, especially when she discovered Hades enjoyed being a submissive masochist. How better for Persephone to work out her anger towards men and to find true happiness. She eventually came to view The Underworld as her home. 

Laika was the first animal launched into orbit (in 1957 aboard Sputnik 2) by the U.S.S.R. paving the way for human spaceflight. She was a puppy who had faith. Laika hated cats her entire life and was taught that cats were in league with America. There was even a rumor there was a Cat Cafe in Area 51 where "pussies and pastries" were linked for the first time. In space, she came across flying pyramids (that landed in ancient Egypt) piloted by cats. She learned the cats were aliens from Mars and eventually came to realize "the cats were on a mission of mercy to end the cold war by bringing with them blankets and hot chocolate" (cats are very literal creatures). Confused at first with the new knowledge that "cats were the good guys," Laika's dogged determination caused her to crash her spacecraft directly into the cat's flying pyramid causing the destruction of both. Right to the end, Laika remained a puppy who had faith.

Dr. Gif Jeffries was a lonely Professor of Anthropology who became addicted to a virtual reality game and engaged in a virtual relationship with Hiro, his online buddy. They were hooked on Camp Horror Classics and specifically Final Girl, which starred America's Sweetheart. Dr. Jeffries had virtual dinner dates with Hiro. Eventually, fantasy and reality merged and Dr. Jeffries became so addicted to the virtual reality game, he feared his "implant would burst through his skin." His medical doctor said he needed to stop using the game because one more session might kill him. Dr. Jeffries took the advice and stopped logging into the virtual web. It is at that point the delusional Dr. Jeffries attempted to start a long distance relationship with Hiro, but Hiro (a virtual program) wouldn't meet him in real life. When America's Sweetheart died, Hiro contacted Dr. Jeffries with the message - "Help!" - and encouraged him to go to Fuji Technologies in Tokyo. He took  the next plane out and, upon arrival, was placed in a comfortable white lounge recliner chair. Wires and lasers came out of the head of a Geisha Android injecting him with her "virtual venom." He soon found himself sitting next to Hiro in the place they first met. Suspecting Hiro was not real, he plunged his thumbs into Hiro's eyes and nothing but black gook came pouring out. Dr. Jeffries realized Hiro was a virus placed into the game to get customers to buy Final Girl merchandise - to seduce, sell and entrap players until their bank accounts were bled dry. Dr. Jeffries wakes and imagines the room is on fire but when he focuses, he realizes what he saw were simply candles placed by mourners at a make-shift memorial for America's Sweetheart.

Back in the real world at an unspecified time and place, Dr. Jeffries explains to a seminar the recent discovery of Specimen #22, an ancient caveman of short stature which suggests that alpha males in his tribe limited that caveman's access to meat. A hat found near his body shows he was capable of symbolic thinking. Could this caveman be our very own Cha Cha, who left his tribe to embrace death when he could no longer make people laugh? Whatever became of this jester? Dandy Darkly offers one extraordinary, fantastic, surreal possibility. Perhaps Walt Whitman found him in the wilderness and invited him to Fancy, a popular afterlife retirement community on Mars where perpetual human creativity is embraced. While there, Cha Cha meets Liberace, Divine, and even Paul Lynde in the center square of a new game show entitled Dead Hollywood Queers hosted by Joan Crawford, the quiz show hostess. 

Dandy Darkly's Myth Mouth! is his fourth show in four years having been preceded by Dandy Darkly's Gory Hole!, Dandy Darkly's Pussy Panic!, and Dandy Darkly's Trigger Happy! This show even features some of the characters introduced to us in prior shows. There is an overarching link in this show connecting the stories to each other and to Dandy Darkly's costume choices, which is delightfully revealed throughout the show and especially during the high-energy, high-flying conclusion to this dazzling, hypnotic encounter presented to us by this master of myth. His flamboyance, brilliance, and talent are constantly on display. His compelling narratives and magnificent presence will take you to places you never thought you would go. Fasten Your Seatbelts! Seeing this show will provide you with an experience you will not soon forget and never inadvertently neglect to remember the most important rule - No Wire Hangers!

Dandy Darkly's Myth Mouth is dedicated to anyone struggling with addiction. He hopes they come to embrace a higher power - called laughter! The show runs until Tuesday, October 25, 2016 at Under St. Mark's Theater. Tickets cost $20.00. For more information, visit 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of 1776 at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of 1776 at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Music & Lyrics by Sherman Edwards
Book by Peter Stone
Directed by Igor Goldin
Musically Directed by Eric Alsford
Scenic Design by Stephen Dobay
Costume & Wig Design by Kurt Alger
Lighting Design by Cory Pattak
Sound Design by Laura Shubert
Props Design by Kristie Moschetta
The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport
250 Main Street
Northport, New York 11768
Reviewed 10/8/16

1776 opens with John Adams reporting, "I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress! And by God, I have had this Congress! For ten years, King George and his Parliament have gulled, cullied, and diddled these colonies with their illegal taxes! Stamp Acts, Townshend Acts, Sugar Acts, Tea Acts! And when we dared stand up like men, they have stopped our trade, seized our ships, blockaded our ports, burned our towns, and spilled our BLOOD! And still, this Congress refuses to grant ANY of my proposals on independence, even so much as the courtesy of open debate! Good God, what in the hell are you waiting for?" John Adams, one of the delegates from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is rightfully frustrated because it is his state that has suffered the most at the hands of the British. He is the foremost agitator for independence in the Continental Congress. Other delegates, especially from the Southern Colonies don't share his enthusiasm for independency. Some are hoping for reconciliation while others think victory is impossible. (as Samuel Chase, a delegate from Maryland impressively played by Doug Vandewinkel), said, "If we win, we can declare whatever we want!". It was difficult for the delegates to be optimistic regarding the outcome of the war given the hundreds of discouraging dispatches received from G. Washington reporting the disarray, lack of discipline and overwhelming odds faced by the Continental Army. Col. Thomas McKean (Delaware Delegate) stated: "Surely, we have managed to promote the gloomiest man on this continent to head our troops! Those dispatches are the most depressing accumulation of disaster, doom, and despair in the entire annals of military history." (Another delegate said, "The man would depress a hyena.") The action in this play takes place from May-July, 1776 and chronicles the negotiations and votes that led to the drafting and amendment of the Declaration of Independence, and ultimately, a unanimous vote for independence on July 2, 1776. 

The original Broadway production of 1776 opened on March 16, 1969 at the 46th Street Theatre (now the Richard Rodgers Theatre) and closed on February 13, 1972, after 1,217 performances. During its three-year run, it played at three different theatres: the 46th Street, the St. James Theatre (1970), and, finally, the Majestic Theatre (1971). It won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Ron Holgate) and Best Direction of a Musical (Peter Hunt). 1776 was revived by the Roundabout Theatre Company on August 4, 1997 (in a limited engagement at the Criterion Center) before transferring to the George Gershwin Theatre on December 3, 1997 for a commercial run that closed on June 14, 1998, after 333 performances and 34 previews. Scene Three of 1776 holds the record for the longest time in a musical without a single note of music played or sung. Over thirty (30) minutes pass between "The Lees Of Old Virginia" and "But Mr. Adams." There are many historical inaccuracies in the book, far too many to document here. However, the play does capture the spirit and some of the conflict present among the delegates on the eve of their vote for independence. John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts successfully portrayed by Tom Lucca, broke a tie in favor of requiring the independence resolution to pass by a unanimous vote because he said, "Don't you see that any colony who opposes independence will be forced to fight on the side of England? That we'll be setting brother against brother. That our new nation will carry as its emblem the mark of Cain. I can see no other way. Either we all walk together, or together we must stay where we are."  

Few would select 1776 as their favorite musical of all time. Nevertheless, there is dramatic tension, rising action, interesting dialogue, humor, young love, and a few good musical numbers to keep people's interest. This production at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport features the best cast I have ever seen perform this musical. The period costumes are amazing as is the set (except the second door where the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia - now called Independence Hall - was for decoration only and did not open). One of the two women in this play is Jennifer Hope Wills, who does a marvelous job playing Abigail Adams (John's wife) during dream sequences when the content of some of their many letters are revealed (John asks Abigail to send him saltpetre, while due to the blockade of Boston Harbor, she asks him for pins). James LaVerdiere does a fine job portraying John Adams as an obnoxious, disagreeable, disliked delegate (when in fact, at this point in history, he was highly respected). John and Abigail sing two songs together, "Till Then" and "Yours, Yours, Yours", while Abigail Adams performs one solo, "Compliments." Ms. Mills is a talented actor with a very strong stage presence. The second woman in the show is Adriana Milbrath, who brings the beauty and charisma of Martha Jefferson to life on stage. One can understand why the relatively shy Thomas Jefferson, expertly played by Michael Glavan, was so in love with her. He never remarried after his wife's death in 1782. Regarding not taking another wife, Mr. Jefferson later wrote, "A single event wiped away all my plans and left me a blank which I had not the spirits to fill up." Supposedly, one of the reasons Jefferson successfully courted Martha was because he played the violin. This is represented in the song "He Plays The Violin", which Ms. Milbrath sings with James LaVerdiere (John Adams) and David Studwell (Benjamin Franklin).

David Studwell is a very lucky actor to have been given the opportunity to play Dr. Benjamin Franklin ("no Venus"). He gets to have fun with the part speaking some of the most profound, insightful, and funniest lines in the play. Some examples: Dr. Franklin: "I wouldn't mind being called an Englishman if I were given the full rights of an Englishman. But to call me one without those rights is like calling an ox a bull. He's thankful for the honor, but he'd much rather have restored what's rightfully his."; Dr. Franklin: "A rebellion is always legal in the first person, such as 'our rebellion.' It is only in the third person - 'their rebellion" - that it becomes illegal."; Dr. Franklin: "Revolutions come into this world like bastard children - half improvised, half compromised."; Upon John Adams' shock that Jefferson was taking his wife to bed in the middle of the afternoon, Dr. Franklin responds, "Not everybody's from Boston, John!"; Upon receiving a note that Jefferson will be further delayed in writing the Declaration of Independence because he was taking his wife back to bed again, Dr. Franklin said, "You know, perhaps I should have written the Declaration. At my age there's little doubt the pen is mightier than the sword."; Regarding his support for independence, Dr. Franklin said, "Never was such a valuable possession so stupidly and recklessly managed than this entire continent by the British crown. Our industry discouraged, our resources pillaged...worst of all our very character stifled. We've spawned a new race here...rougher, simpler; more violent, more enterprising; less refined. We're a new nationality. We require a new nation." Besides being an engaging actor, Mr. Studwell is also an excellent singer, making a strong contribution to "But, Mr. Adams" and "The Egg". In his losing argument to make the turkey the symbol of our new nation, he argued the turkey is "a truly noble bird. Native American, a source of sustenance to our original settlers, and an incredibly brave fellow who wouldn't flinch from attacking a whole regiment of Englishmen single-handedly." In the end, as you know, the eagle was selected even though Franklin thought the eagle was a scavenger. 

Every actor in the supporting cast is absolutely magnificent. I am not one to exaggerate or to give praise when it is undeserved. I assure you there isn't a weak performer or singer in this show right down to Gordon Gray, who plays the Congressional Custodian, and Matthew Rafanelli, who is the Courier. Their rendition of "Momma Look Sharp," which ended the first act, brought many to tears. Jon Reinhold was hilarious as Richard Henry Lee, the delegate from Virginia who introduced the motion for independence. His enthusiastic rendition of the apparently neverending "The Lees Of Old Virginia" (sung with Franklin & Adams) was the hit of the show. Peter Saide as Edward Rutledge (a delegate from South Carolina) pointed out Northern Hypocrisy on the slavery issue when singing "Molasses To Rum," which highlighted the involvement of ships from Boston in the Triangle Trade. Mr. Saide's portrayal of Edward Rutledge as a bit of a dandy and a defender of that "peculiar institution" was extremely engaging and entertaining. As far as group numbers are concerned, "But Mr. Adams" involves Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Sherman & Livingston where each is trying to pass the quill to another so they wouldn't be saddled with the obligation to write the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. The second impressive group number involves Benjamin Howes as John Dickerson (a conservative delegate from Pennsylvania hoping for reconciliation with England) leading his fellow conservatives in a minuet while singing "Cool, Cool Considerate Man." ("always to the right, never to the left" is a historic anachronism since those terms weren't in use at the time). In the play, there were "more than eighty-five separate changes and the removal of close to four hundred words" from the Declaration of Independence. Many delegates were concerned about offending one group or another (e.g. the Scottish, Parliament). Eventually, John Adams said, "This is a revolution, dammit! We're going to have to offend SOMEbody!"

New Yorkers, in particular, might be interested in Lewis Morris, sympathetically played by Stephen Valenti, who continuously "abstained" courteously on all votes since "the New York Legislature has never sent us explicit instructions on anything." When John Hancock challenged him asking, "What the hell goes on in New York?", Lewis Morris asked, "have you ever been present at a meeting of the New York Legislature?" When Hancock nodded "no," Morris explained, "They speak very fast and very loud, and nobody listens to anybody else, with the result that nothing ever gets done." Lewis Morris was born and raised in what is now the South Bronx in an area his family dubbed Morrisania. When he went ahead and signed the Declaration of Independence despite having no authorization to do so, he pitted himself against his brother, a devout Loyalist and brigadier in the British Army (just as Dr. Benjamin Franklin was estranged from his acknowledged illegitimate son, William Franklin, the 13th and last Colonial Governor of New Jersey). Less than a month after the Declaration of Independence was signed by Lewis Morris, British troops laid siege to Morris' land, looting his Manor, driving away his livestock, and destroying 1,000 acres of woodland. His family lived in exile until 1783.

This production of 1776 at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport is one of the best you will ever see. It proves that history doesn't have to be boring when it is brought to life on stage. I strongly recommend you see 1776 during its current run which ends November 6, 2016. You can relax beforehand and during intermission in the theater's bar and lounge listening to show tunes and trying out some of the following specialty cocktails ($12.00 each): The G Washington, The Cool, Cool Considerate Cocktail, The Independency, The Bunch Of Grapes, and The Courier. Tickets are $76.00 on Saturday evenings and $71.00 all other performances. The show schedule is Thursdays & Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. (some Wednesday & Sunday evenings are available). To make reservations, call 631-261-2900, go online to or visit the Engeman Theater Box Office located at 250 Main Street in Northport. After the show, you can go to dinner and fight over whether John Adams (UN-alienable) or Thomas Jefferson (IN-alienable) was correct. Perhaps it depends on the context and what exactly it was that was being implied in that particular clause of the Declaration of Independence. 1776 reminds us of the blood, sweat, and tears that were required to give birth to this new nation - these United States of America!  

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of That Golden Girls Show! - A Puppet Parody at DR2 Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of That Golden Girls Show! - A Puppet Parody at DR2 Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

That Golden Girls Show! - A Puppet Parody
Created & Directed by Jonathan Rockefeller
Puppet Creation & Puppetry Direction by Joel Gennari
Set & Lighting Design by David Goldstein
Michael LaMasa as Dorothy
Cat Greenfield as Blanche
Arlene Chadwick as Rose
Emmanuelle Zeesman as Sophia
Zach Kononov as Stanley
DR2 Theatre
103 East 15th Street
New York, New York 10003 
Reviewed 10/2/16

You hear upbeat music playing in the lobby and the theater prior to the show beginning, which puts you in a good mood as you wait for this 90-minute puppet parody of The Golden Girls television show to begin. "Gloria," "It's Raining Men," and "Like A Virgin" greet the "girls, gays and grannies" who have been invited for a walk down memory lane. Very familiar themes and zingers, most of which have been drawn directly from the 180 episodes are presented here by speaking humans carrying hand puppets Avenue Q style. The compacted set by David Goldstein is extremely impressive. It recreates the living room and kitchen used in the original television series with great accuracy. However, there is no lanai and we never get to see Blanche's bedroom although a lighted disco ball does descend into the living room when she is in the mood for a sexual experience. 

All four of the actors behind the puppets (Cat Greenfield as Blanche Devereaux, the sex-obsessed Southern Belle; Michael LaMasa as Dorothy Zbornak, the practical deep-voiced substitute teacher who divorced her husband Stan after he had an affair with a younger woman; Arlene Chadwick as Rose Nylund, the Norwegian American ditzy, innocent St. Olaf, Minnesota native; and Emmanuelle Zeesman as Sophia Petrillo, the outspoken Sicilian widow from Brooklyn who moved out of Shady Pines Retirement Home after it caught fire) have mastered the speaking style, hand gestures and body movements of the characters they play. They all do a remarkable job and are very convincing. The puppets themselves, expertly designed and directed by Joel Gennari, are stunningly crafted with make-up, costumes, accessories, and even facial expressions that are true to the Golden Girl they represent. An altered, post-plastic surgery Blanche Devereaux puppet even makes an appearance with big lips and big breasts before disappearing without explanation. Blanche then uses balloons to bolster her breast size. Zach Kononov (wearing an appropriately bad toupee) makes a convincing appearance as Stan. We learn that in order to inherit $400,000.00 from his dead aunt's estate, he must marry someone within a very short period of time. Dorothy is asked first and not knowing the true motivation behind his proposal, thinks he has changed and is serious about his professed love for her. Thinking Dorothy isn't interested, Blanche and Rose offer themselves up as brides-of-convenience. Blanche pops her balloons while in the process of sexually seducing Stan, and Rose, who only promised to cook for Stan, finally admits she and Charlie made up a lot of the weird words she often used in the original series.

The insults and banter are not fresh. You will recognize most of it and while, at first, you laugh because you know the lines, over time, the lack of innovative writing and/or parody, gets tiresome and tedious. Of course, if you are not a fan of the television series, all of this will be new to you. In that case, you will be extremely entertained and might even find yourself rolling in the aisles with laughter. I will give you some examples: Stan: "I always managed to put food on the table." Dorothy: "Which was quite an accomplishment for someone who has to get naked to count to 21."; Rose: "Can I ask a stupid question?" Sophia: "Better than anyone I know."; Blanche: "Who knows my body better than I do." Sophia: "Every man in Miami not attached to a respirator."; Blanche: "I haven't had sex in so long, I don't know if I'd know a penis if I sat on one."; Blanche: "Flirting is part of my heritage." Dorothy: "That means her mother was a slut too."; Sophia to Blanche & Rose: "Dorothy is so fat, the last time she went to the beach, Greenpeace tried to drag her back into the ocean."; Sophia to Dorothy: "I wish you wouldn't wear that leotard. It makes your camel toe look like a folded mattress."; and Rose to Blanche: "I would be careful before you decide to undergo plastic surgery. I know a woman who had so many lifts her belly button was up to her nose. In the end, she had to join the circus. There wasn't a more convincing bearded lady!". For the devoted fans, Dorothy even got a call from Toto. Her expected response was, "You want me to do what for $8.00?"

The show runs 90-minutes without an intermission, which seems like an eternity. There is a repeated, unnecessary line that "no one over the age of ten is interested in puppets." There is a lot of cheesecake eating and Dorothy finally says to Rose what she couldn't say on television, namely, "Fuck St. Olaf!" There is very little new and nothing I would call clever or witty in this show. I came expecting fresh writing, an interesting plot and some new insults I haven't heard before. Instead, I got more of the same, which isn't a parody of the original show, but more of a faithful recreation of a single 30-minute episode dragged out for an hour and a half. Blanche is concerned about her looks after a date cancels on her. Rose is trying to save St. Olaf's Herring Circus, which someone literally "pulled the plug on." Dorothy is again thinking about giving Stan another chance, and Sophia is trying a new way to raise money by selling Fernando and other items belonging to the girls, including Dorothy's diary of the experiences the Golden Girls have had together.  

In the end, the girls make up and share some more cheesecake (grateful they have each other) but the mystery remains as to how Sophia was able to afford a mink coat and a large screen television. It turns out she sold the television rights to the stories in Dorothy's diary and they all gather around the television set to watch the show supposedly based on their lives. At first, Blanche thinks the show is not about them because there's a man living with them (no, not Coco) but they soon realize "That's not a man. That's Bea Arthur!" Sophia says the girls will each get a cut of the money if the show goes into syndication but they are convinced it will never last. If the weak plot and lame jokes in this show were what was portrayed in the original series, it wouldn't have lasted seven minutes, let alone seven seasons. 

That Golden Girls Show! - A Puppet Parody will be playing at DR2 Theatre through December 11, 2016. Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday; 10:00 p.m. on Friday and 8:00 p.m. on Saturday. Matinee performances are at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday & Sunday. Tickets cost $69.00 or $99.00. For reservations, call 1-800-982-2787 or visit 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Fiorello! at The East 13th Street Theater by Dr. Thomas G. Jacoby

This review of Fiorello! at The East 13th Street Theater was written by Dr. Thomas G. Jacoby and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Book by Jerome Weidman & George Abbott
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Bob Moss
Choreography by Michael Callahan
Costume Design by David Murin
Scenic Design by Carl Sprague
Music Direction by Evan Zavada
The East 13th Street Theater
136 East 13th Street
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 9/24/16

It is always a challenge to write about respected and cherished musicals. Fiorello!, currently at The East 13th Street Theater and presented by the Berkshire Theatre Group after a successful run in Massachusetts, meets all the criteria of one of these time-honored "cultural landmarks." The goal is to evaluate whether the musical itself has artistic merit by today's standards, whether it is relevant, and whether the revival production is worthy of our time.

The songs and the staging tell a story that is both popular and inspiring: a young lawyer, humble but ambitious, serves the public in early twentieth-century New York. He is an idealist who takes on clients whether they can pay or not, and expects everyone to receive equal treatment under the law. Fiorello LaGuardia undertakes the defense of striking workers at the Nifty Shirtwaist Factory with the hope that the resulting notoriety will benefit his congressional campaign, which it does. He runs for office with the blessing of the local Republican Party. His secretary is secretly in love with him, but he courts the beautiful strike organizer. While a congressman, he supports United States involvement in World War I and enlists as a fighter pilot when the U.S. does become involved. He returns from the war, marries the strike organizer, runs for mayor (and loses due to the entrenched corruption of Tammany Hall politicians), loses his wife, marries his former secretary, runs for mayor again on a fusion ticket, becomes a beloved New York City mayor and New York City lives happily ever after.

I suspect the audience of the early 1960s received this musical very differently from today's viewers. While patrons of this production remember 9-11, that audience probably had very strong memories of World War II. Some might have even remembered LaGuardia, the man, as opposed to LaGuardia, the legend. The idealism of the young that would reach its highest point in the "Summer of Love" in 1967 was probably already growing, and this is reflected in musicals like 1964's Man Of LaMancha, which made "tilting at windmills" a household expression. Yet, the idealism reflected in Fiorello! has resulted in few profound real-world changes. A hundred years later, machine politics and corruption are alive and well, the exploitation of workers and sweatshops remain in New York, and the United States continues to walk the line between isolationism and pro-active globalism when it comes to international affairs.

All this makes Fiorello! a wee bit quaint by today's standards. A lawyer is not the figure that springs to mind as a champion of the repressed in today's world. A song like "On The Side Of The Angels" wants to be sincere, but comes out as more tongue-in-cheek than it was probably originally intended. It's nearly impossible to take a line like "Do what he says, he's a lawyer, he knows what he's talking about" as anything other than period-appropriate patter. The police ballet interlude is cute but too in love with its "old-timeyness." This entire production is most often lit in shades of sepia, like old photographs, which is charming but also underlines the fact that the material is being taken as written, not as a modern and relevant piece. When Marie, the secretary, sings that she will marry "The Very Next Man," this is likely an homage to the 1950s number "Marry The Man Today" from Guys & Dolls, which was dropped from the 1955 film, but is a much stronger song than its Fiorello! counterpart. Then again, the dance of the naughty flappers in Floyd & Dora's penthouse was probably adorably dated even in 1959.

This is not to say this current production doesn't have some amazing strengths and modern moments. When one of the flapper Cuties squeaks her opinion of Mitzi Travers' song praising rival politician Gentleman Jimmy, one can imagine it coming just as readily from the mouth of a current reality show starlet on cable TV, "It was so moving, the words are...everything." The solo "When Did I Fall In Love?", beautifully and lovingly performed by Rebecca Brudner as Thea, has not a trace of irony and is every bit as modern a ballad as anyone could desire. The choreography of the scene changes, with cast members changing out and assembling the props from one scene to the next is seamless and perfectly timed. Some of the actors gave notable performances and I would like to see some of them become more active in the New York theater scene: Chelsea Cree Groen, who plays Dora, shows a remarkable range and stage presence, Dan Cassin as Floyd makes you wish the character had a greater role, and the aforementioned Rebecca Brudner and Maureen Glessner (who plays Mitzi), have amazing voices and dynamic control. Drew Carr, as Chadwick, and Matt McLean, as Morris, turn in convincing and believable performances.

Fiorello himself, Austin Scott Lombardi, is a bit of a disappointment, unfortunately. He runs out of breath in more than one of his solos, which is distracting. He is at his best when portraying a man stricken with grief over the death of his wife who must brace himself for adversity. Rylan Morsbach, who plays Ben Marino, has a stage accent poor enough to make one grit one's teeth, and Katie Birenboim, as Marie, had such poor diction in her first solo "Unfair" as to make me wonder if she had a speech impediment. The cast, in general, has some diction and accent issues they would do well to resolve: many of the lyrics are lost in "Politics & Poker" and even some in "Little Tin Box." This is unfortunate in any production, but particularly criminal in an amplified production with minimalist staging and sepia lighting because there's little to look at while one waits for the sounds to become more than unpleasant noise.

Overall, it's amazing to see a full staging of Fiorello! and most would probably enjoy seeing a professional production of a musical that has become fodder, mostly in excerpt form, for community theater, high school stages, and summer stock. Enjoy the songs and the dancing, see some very promising young talent and marvel at the fact so little has changed in the political scene in the last century.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Thank You For Being A Friend: An Unauthorized Golden Girls Musical Parody at The Cutting Room by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Thank You For Being A Friend: An Unauthorized Golden Girls Musical Parody at The Cutting Room was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Thank You For Being A Friend: An Unauthorized Golden Girls Musical Parody
Co-Directed by Joe Barros & Nick Brennan
Book by Nick Brennan
Music by Jeff Thomson
Lyrics by Luke Jones & Cisco Cardenas
Choreography by Joe Barros
Sets by Tonae Mitsuhashi
Costumes by Ryan Moller
Charles Baran as Dorothea
Joshua Warr as Blanchette
Michael James Valvo as Sophie
Nick Brennan as Roz
Michael Carrasco as Ricky Martin & Others
The Cutting Room
44 East 32nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 9/25/16

The actors in Thank You For Being A Friend: An Unauthorized Golden Girls Musical Parody do their best to keep the energy level high, the jokes coming, and the dance numbers entertaining. The result is enthusiastic applause and a packed house of devoted fans of The Golden Girls, the popular television show starring Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak, Rue McClanahan as Blanche Devereaux, Betty White as Rose Nylund, and Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo. Since this musical parody of that show is "unauthorized," we are introduced to Dorothea, Blanchette, Roz and Sophie, four women over 60 living in a wicker-filled home in Miami. Their quiet lifestyle is disturbed when Latin pop star Ricky Martin moves next door and starts holding loud, outdoor, pool parties where young, hot guys are having gay sex (no women allowed!). The girls ask him to keep the noise down and they get rebuffed and insulted. The solution agreed to is for both parties to enter the Shady Oaks Retirement Home Talent Show. If the sassy seniors win, Ricky agrees to end the parties. If he wins, the gals are going to have to be his maids (and clean up crew) at the pool parties for a month. Intrigue, deception, backstabbing and betrayal follow.

Familiar Golden Girls characters and themes are recognizable throughout the musical. Laszlo is competing in the contest and Stan is the Stage Manager. Even Fernando makes an appearance. The women exhibit the personalities of the characters they are supposed to be playing. Roz is still the lovable airhead who says that Ricky Martin "makes my muffins rise." Sophie, the wisecracking spitfire, went to observe the pool party and reported, "You should see the size of the pepperoni inside that meat market!". Blanchette, refusing to believe she wouldn't be able to seduce gay men (Ricky Martin included), is upset when he says "90% of the men at my pool party are mine." She says, "When I tell people you are into older women, that job will once again be mine!". Finally, we learn that Dorothea is going through "the change" and has been taking male hormones for quite some time, which explains her deep voice. (As one of the girls said, "You're becoming the grumpy old man we always knew you to be."). With the sex change complete, Stan is turned off when he becomes frisky but Blanchette tells Dorothea she better answer if she hears a knock on her bedroom door at 11:00 p.m. Ricky Martin reveals his "back door is always open if you're a guy," and that "the U.S. Navy considers him a friendly port." With Mark Anthony, Julio Iglesias and Charo as the Judges of the Talent Show, I think you can guess who won. The girls will now have to wear rain jackets and they are prepared "to take more shots to the face than Robin Givens at a lunch with Mike Tyson."

Thank You For Being A Friend: An Unauthorized Golden Girls Musical Parody had sold-old runs in 2009, 2010 and 2013. It is now back for its fourth limited-run engagement at The Cutting Room. Updates have been made and new actors have been cast for some of the roles. Before commenting individually, I should say all of the actors were appropriately dressed, spoke with the proper cadence, and nailed the hand gestures and movements of each of their characters. Joshua Warr was absolutely amazing as Blanchette. Michael James Valvo took Sophie to a new level since he could move faster and quicker than Sophia Petrillo could in the original television show. Michael Carrasco was perfect as Ricky Martin and showed his acting abilities and talent by convincingly playing a number of different minor characters (I will not comment on his pre-show performance as host of The Ultimate Golden Girls Trivia Challenge where he couldn't even remember which questions he had already asked). Charles Baran was excellent as Dorothea but instead of being tall (called "stretch"), he was quite visibly shorter than many of the other characters. Perhaps platform shoes could rectify this problem. As for Roz, I have to admit Nick Brennan was exuberant and tried to capture her spirit. However, I found his performance the most incongruent because he is too overweight to play the part and moved around the stage like a bull in a china shop. On the negative side, the technical engineer was sloppy, missing turning up the mic on the person singing/speaking over and over. It was as if the tech was "asleep at the switch." The story is weak and untenable. The songs are forgettable. I honestly can't remember a single one. But that having been said, the audience, hungry for anything and everything Golden Girls, seemed to love the show and have a fantastic time. I have no doubt you will too!

The show runs Sundays at 7:00 p.m. at The Cutting Room for at least six weeks and possibly longer. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. with a pre-show Trivia Challenge at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $24.00, with an additional $20.00 food/drink minimum. Call 212-352-3101 for reservations or visit