Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Tim X. Lee's Scientist Turned Comedian at Under St. Mark's Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Scientist Turned Comedian at Under St. Mark's Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Scientist Turned Comedian
Written & Performed by Tim X. Lee
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 2/15/17

Tim Lee graduated Magna Cum Laude from UC San Diego with honors in Biology. Dr. Lee obtained his Ph.D. in Ecology & Evolution from UC Davis. He spent years developing simulation and analytical models of population dynamics and worked as a biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Administration trying to save the California Sea Lion from extinction. Believe it or not, this work bored him to tears but when he tried comedy for the first time, his tears stopped. As he says, "I used to give talks in front of smart people who tried to take apart my logic. Now I give talks in front of drunk people who try to take apart my jokes." He explains, "geniuses type bits into a computer and say 'that's funny' while comedians throw bits at the audience, and when they don't laugh, I tell them, come on, that's funny!" Besides performing stand up comedy throughout the United States, Tim X. Lee is currently featured on Beasts Behaving Badly on Discovery Family, and How Do They Do It on Science Channel. His act supposedly has "the seal of approval."

Dr. Lee is not as young or energetic as you might observe him to be in YouTube videos. His comedic timing is off and the high level of professionalism you might expect for an entry into the Frigid Festival was lacking. He is entering middle age and has developed a bit of a gut. On the positive side, he is still quite good-looking, well-dressed, and has some very funny material - half provided in monologues and the other half presented in PowerPoint presentations. There is no particular theme to Scientist Turns Comedian but he sometimes uses graphs to highlight the insightful observations he is trying to relay to the audience. For example, he uses a bar graph to show that when stopped by the police and asked how many drinks a person has had, "one" is the number one answer, but way off on the other end of the chart, there is one person who answers "nine." He says, "that is because that driver was too drunk to realize who he was talking to." He also used a slide to illustrate that the probability of your using a dirty Porta Potty is at the point your "desperation" overtakes your "disgust." Recognizing he has put on a few pounds, he admits he has put himself on an organic diet. He reports, "I eat a lot less when the food is very...expensive."

To give you a few more examples of his humor, he says, "My Uncle Bert says "Deviled Eggs & Angel Food Cake are opposites." The Google Search "How do I dispose of a Dead Body?" shows the perpetrator of the crime was "a poor planner." He believes "if you could buy your babies on Amazon, there would be a lot of returns." He recently had a fight with his insurance company that had authorized a medical procedure but then didn't pay for it. The insurance company's response was, "We authorized it but never said we'd pay." He noted that passwords usually require an uppercase letter, a lowercase letter, a number, and a special character. He explained that "special characters are any characters with an extra chromosome." He admires Starbucks for their decision to pay for college degrees for all their employees but he fears the fine-print will only allow them to obtain Humanities Degrees "so they will come back to work for them."

I am glad I went to see Tim X. Lee. If he organizes his material better and perks up a bit (perhaps with a coffee from Starbucks), I can imagine his future shows have the potential to be crowd-pleasers. Mr. Lee is from Southern California so I recommend you catch him while he is performing in New York City. Scientist Turned Comedian can be seen at Under St. Mark's Theater on Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 10:30 p.m. and on Saturday, February 25, 2017 at 2:10 p.m. Tickets cost $18.00 ($10.00 for students & half off if you show up in a lab coat). To purchase tickets, visit www.FrigidNewYork.info. For more information about Tim X. Lee, visit www.ScientistTurnedComedian.com

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Schoenberg Spotlight Review of The Parkside Players' production of Agatha Christie's Black Coffee at Grace Lutheran Church by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of The Parkside Players' production of Agatha Christie's Black Coffee at Grace Lutheran Church was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in The Schoenberg Spotlight.

Black Coffee
Written by Agatha Christie
Directed by Mark Dunn
The Parkside Players
Grace Lutheran Church
103-15 Union Turnpike
Forest Hills, New York 11375
Reviewed 2/19/17

The Parkside Players used to be a well-respected community theater company featuring challenging productions with competent actors. However, in recent years, under the company's current leadership, the success and professionalism of the respective productions have, unfortunately, gone downhill. It has even reached a point where the company has decided to discourage the attendance of critics by not offering them a second comp for a guest, which is standard industry practice. Applause! Applause!, the publication I sometimes write for, refused to review Black Coffee for that reason. However, since I feel a critic should reflect the eyes and ears of paying audience members, I decided to pay for my own ticket to review the show for The Schoenberg Spotlight

Black Coffee is a dark horse play written in 1929 by Agatha Christie. It already creaked at that time and Christie's literary agent discouraged her from doing anything further about it. It never had a New York Stage debut. However, it saw the light of day on the London stage in 1930 and 1931, the same year it was produced as a movie. Black Coffee was also the first work of Agatha Christie to be produced in a non-English movie - a French version in 1932. The play was first published by Alfred Ashley & Son in November 1934. It was republished with minor revisions by Samuel French in 1952. Past reviews of the play have generally been unfavorable. The Times' review of the December 9, 1930 production declared, "Mrs. Christie steers her play with much dexterity, yet there are times when it is perilously near the doldrums." Ivor Brown's review of the second production wrote in The Observer, "If you are one of those playgoers who are eternally excited by a corpse in the library and cross-examination of the family, all is well. If not, not. To me the progress of detection seemed rather heavy going."

The Parkside Players made the decision to give Black Coffee life once more. You will need a gallon of black coffee to stay awake during this play, which has not aged well. What passed as sophisticated detective techniques back then were already stale at the time Agatha Christie admitted in her Autobiography that the play was "a conventional spy thriller...full of cliches." She did give enough clues for the audience to solve the mystery regarding where the formula was hidden but not a sufficient number of clues to figure out who committed the murder without the help of Hercule Poirot, the great Belgian detective.

The stage scenery, period music, and lighting successfully recreated the atmosphere of an English country home circa 1930s. While some of the costumes were on the mark, Inspector Japp, dressed in a sweater and a badge, was an anachronism. Jim Haines got the accent of Belgian detective Hercule Poirot quite right and Eugene Sullivan aced the role of the corpse. The Parkside Players could not rescue Black Coffee from its pedestrian plotting. Agatha Christie, the author, would greatly improve over the years as a mystery writer of both plays and novels. I hope to see the same improvement at The Parkside Players in years to come. If things remain as they are, I would think twice before seeing another production there.

Black Coffee runs through March 4, 2017. Tickets cost $17.00 ($15.00 for seniors). You can make reservations by calling 516-520-9474 or 718-353-7388. For more information, visit www.ParksidePlayers.com

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of A Fifth Dimension: An Unauthorized Twilight Zone Parody at The Kraine Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of A Fifth Dimension: An Unauthorized Twilight Zone Parody at The Kraine Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Fifth Dimension: An Unauthorized Twilight Zone Parody
Written & Directed by Genny Yosco
Costuming by Chris Weigandt
The Kraine Theater
85 East 4th Street
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 2/15/17

"There is a fifth dimension, unknown to most of mankind. It is a dimension of sight, sound, and time. The middle ground between daylight and dusk, between fact and fiction, and it lies between your vast knowledge of all things real, and your childhood phobias long forgotten. This is the dimension of creativity, and often of creation itself. It is an area which we call...the Twilight Zone" says Bryan Songy, who acts as Narrator of A Fifth Dimension: An Unauthorized Twilight Zone Parody, which features eight scenes based off of iconic Twilight Zone episodes. If you not a fan of the television series, you will particularly enjoy this play because it will expose you to interesting and thought-provoking plots containing insightful social commentary. If you are a loyal fan of Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone, you will appreciate the talent of the actors but will be left longing for more clever writing. Too many of the stories are recreated on stage, perhaps with different dialogue, but without significantly altering the underlying story in a manner that would make it a parody. Many of the stories are re-told too literally with the exception of  Time Now, based on the original episode called Time Enough At Last, which starred Burgess Meredith in a post-apocalyptic world who finally has the time to read in peace and quiet before, accidentally, breaking his reading glasses. I am sorry, where are my manners? Would you like a glass of Instant Smile?

In any case, in Time Now, Burgess Henry (played by Matthew Preston), the bookworm, introvert, and lone survivor of the atomic blast, has finally settled down ready to read every book in the world. He hears a noise and hopes its a dog, who can be his loyal companion and help him to hunt for food. It turns out the noise is coming from Meredith (played by Hannah Eakin), who also survived the recent nuclear Armageddon. She responds, "Right, sorry, not a dog. But before the blast, my friends said I could be quite the bitch!" Meredith doesn't like reading and immediately suggests that they might, in time, consider repopulating the planet. This suggestion horrifies Burgess, who absolutely hates people, especially "a wife nagging me to get my head out of my books." Meredith feeds into his fear by saying, "Oh, I don't need books! Now I've met you, and neither of us has to spend a lonely day or night alone with a book again. We can just talk and talk all day long! I want to know all about your life, and who you were before the blast, and how you survived, and everything!" Well, what was Meredith to do? He snaps her neck and kills her for food. He didn't even need to give her an overdose of Instant Smile, either. He proceeds to go on a rant, "Women! They're so trusting. I'll never understand it. What makes them so...NEEDY when it comes to human attention? Honestly, this is the third one this month that I've had to get rid of. And this one was the worst, I swear." And, finally, as you might have guessed, he proceeds to break his reading glasses while trying to move Meredith's dead body.

This clever parody was somewhat absent from the remaining stories. In Don't Be Such A Dummy, Sandra Robertson (Genny Yosco) is competing in the Miss Galactic Pageant (Presented by Instant Smile!) with Joe King (Mitchell Cetuk), her crass dummy, who eventually comes to life and takes her place in the act. In A Good Thing, Jack Frost, the Delivery Man in Bixby, Idaho, has brought some extra Instant Smile for Mrs. Mumy (Hannah Eakin) and a special gift for Billy Mumy (Adison Eisenberg), the child who has been wreaking havoc on the town for years, turning Mrs. Leachman (Amanda Stafford) and others into animals to play with and unearthing his grandmother so she can sing to him whenever he gets the whim to hear her. At a surprise birthday party for Mr. Keefer (Zachary Millard), whose daughter Billy killed, a better prop should have been found to stand in for the golden heart-shaped locket he was supposed to have received as a gift. In Super Sophie, Sophia Foray (Adison Eisenberg) needs protection from her abusive and demanding stepfather Jerry (Matthew Preston) who barks at his wife Christie, telling her, "Now be a good girl and get dinner ready - and get me a glass of Instant Smile while you're at it, this kid of yours is driving me up a wall." Super Sophie, who hates bad guys, comes to the rescue eventually exhibiting her Girl Power by defeating "the evil Jerry Stratford" so Sophia "can live a happy life" (protected by a switchblade knife she's not hesitant to use).

In Just Like You, it is time for Miranda's "transformation" but she is hesitant to choose a model because she is happy with who she is and suspects that recent "adjustments" may have an impact on her emotions as well as her physical beauty. Miranda (Amanda Stafford) is encouraged by her mother Diana (Chris Weigandt) to proceed with the operation and the Nurse/Barb (Genny Yosco), Dr. Randy/Dr. Friend (Zachary Millard) encourage her to do the same while Diana asks Nurse #23 for "one glass of Instant Smile, please." Despite her father's past objections to the procedure and eventual suicide (he thought "these transformations were an insult to the dignity of the human spirit" and "the world needs ugliness in order for there to be beauty in the first place"), Miranda is pressured to proceed and, in the end, joins the chorus of people who say, "I am pretty, I am fun, I am all, and all is one!". In Pretty/Ugly, Donna Stuart (Genny Yosco) is undergoing reconstructive surgery in a world where "anyone who is considered to be different from the norm is found to be breaking the law just by existing." Dr. Hormel (Mitchell Cetuk) is offering the state a non-kill option, and with the help of Smith Tyler (Zachary Millard) and over the objections of his Nurses, he tries to convince Donna to go into exile. Dr. Hormel, whose name is funnier after you see him, offers Donna a glass of Instant Smile before he takes off her bandages but she rejects it. In Serving The Human, the translated book (entitled To Serve Man - written by Kanamits - in the television episode) is still a cookbook, but here one of The Hollow Men (Matthew Preston) shows up to confront the translators, Damon (Mitchell Cetuk) and Diana (Chris Weigandt), regarding their doubts. The result is the same and they get an expedited visit to the Hollow Men's home world. Since we humans are to be a food source, we now understand their "gifts" of curing disease and putting an end to war. In the short time they've been on the planet, "they've almost completely eliminated the need for Instant Smile - although the people over at Instant Smile aren't exactly happy about that!"

The entire cast, including the two dolls who got their own seats, are featured in the final scene, No One Is Safe, in which Matthew Preston plays both the William Shatner character and the Gremlin. The Narrator ominously warns us that "we are on quite a peculiar plane" and that "a variety of characters are held on this very aircraft, all leaving from and going to the same destination." The flight attendants offer the passengers, "Hot or cold drinks, as well as snacks. Alcoholic drinks and Instant Smile are also available with our compliments." The airline passengers are told to "sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight." That is also my advice to audience members attending A Fifth Dimension: An Unauthorized Twilight Zone Parody. The actors are top-notch, especially Adison Eisenberg, who played both Billy Mumy and Sofia so convincingly that audience members were questioning where the boy was at the curtain call. The writing does leave something to be desired but you will still find this entry in the 2017 Frigid Festival to be entertaining and well worth the effort to catch. At the end of the show, the cast appears and individually adds a line to the following familiar passage, "There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known by man. A dimension as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity. You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is the middle ground, between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. The signpost up ahead signals your next stop" to which the Narrator added "Where no one is safe." and everyone responded, "Here, in the Twilight Zone." 

A Fifth Dimension: An Unauthorized Twilight Zone Parody plays at The Kraine Theater on Monday, February 20th at 8:50 p.m., on Tuesday, February 21st at 8:50 p.m., on Sunday, February 26th at 6:50 p.m. and on Saturday, March 4th at 6:40 p.m. Tickets cost $15.00 ($11.00 for students, seniors, and military with identification). You can also memorize and recite an opening narration from any Twilight Zone episode for a $5.00 ticket. You can make reservations online at www.FrigidNewYork.info or purchase them at The Kraine Theater's box office, where they do not, unfortunately, sell Instant Smile. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Neil Simon's California Suite at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Neil Simon's California Suite at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

California Suite
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Marian Waller
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 2/12/17

Originally produced by the Center Theatre Group, Neil Simon's California Suite premiered on April 23, 1976 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, California, where it ran until June 5th.  The play opened on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on June 10, 1976 and closed on July 2, 1977, after 445 performances and 4 previews. It contains 4 playlets (each about 1/2 hour long) with each story set in Suite 203-204 in The Beverly Hills Hotel. 

In Visitor From New York, Hannah Warren, a Manhattan workaholic flies to Los Angeles to retrieve her 17-year old daughter Jenny, who ran away over Thanksgiving break to be with her successful screenwriter father. Hannah and William (now known as Billy) have been divorced for 9 years. He has no legal visitation rights but Hannah has permitted him to have their daughter for the summers. Now Jenny wants to spend her last year of High School in Los Angeles before heading off to college. Billy likes his new less stressful life. He no longer sees a therapist and has given up drinking. He doesn't miss the pretentiousness of their former elitist, pseudo-intellectual friends in Manhattan, East Hampton, and Martha's Vineyard. For reasons unknown, William is still somewhat attracted to Hannah's personality, and Hannah knows her ex-husband well enough to have ordered from room service both a tea with lemon and a double scotch on the rocks, the two drinks he will end up asking for during their visit. Hannah is a New York snob and a complete bitch, who relentlessly attacks both her ex-husband and Los Angeles every opportunity she gets (what he calls her "smart ass conversation"). Hannah attacks Los Angeles by saying it "smells like an over-ripe cantaloupe" and contemplates she would get "constipation of the mind" should she ever move out there. She also asks him whether he still lives in Hardy Canyon when she knows its name is Laurel Canyon ("Laurel/Hardy - same difference"). On a personal level, Hannah attacks William by suggesting he is not Jenny's father ("they've been very slow coming back with the blood test"), that his "California Clothes" make him look "like the sweetest young 14-year old boy," and that while he was "good between the sheets," she needed to fantasize about other people during their lovemaking because "sometimes we must have our own private fantasy to get us to the top of Magic Mountain." She lobbed additional "spears" at him and his only retort was when he told her, "New York is not Mecca - it just smells like it." One line I particularly liked was when Hannah said, "I feel like an artist selling a painting I don't want to part with," to which he responded, "Don't worry. I'll frame it and put it in a good light for you."

In Visitor From Philadelphia, conservative, middle-aged, Jewish businessman Marvin Michaels awakens to discover a  prostitute named Bunny unconscious in his bed after she consumed six margaritas and a bottle of vodka. Marvin and Millie (his wife of 26 years with whom he has two children) took separate flights to Los Angeles (to avoid the tragedy of both of them potentially dying at the same time) in order to attend the bar mitzvah of Marvin's brother Harry's son. Harry is four years younger than Marvin, who bought his brother his first woman when he was still a virgin. Seeking to return the favor when Marvin arrived a day earlier than his wife, Harry told him that when he returns to his room, "there will be a gift there for you." Marvin awakens in the morning to find Bunny still in his bed wearing his pajamas. He panics and tries to get her to wake up and leave. He even pleads with God to make her move promising "I'll never be a bad person again for the rest of my life." When his wife Millie arrives, he tries to hide his indiscretion and hilarious scenes follow as he tries to keep his wife off the bed and out of the bedroom. He eventually needs to confess his adultery but in trying to get his wife to forgive him, he tries a number of defenses, including "She was a surprise gift. I didn't even pay for it," "We were both drunk. Do you think I could've done this sober," and "Not even did I not enjoy it. I don't remember it." My favorite line was when Marvin went to hug his wife and she stopped him saying, "Not in front of the hooker." 

The Visitors From London are British actress Diana Nichols, a first-time nominee for the Academy Award for Best Actress, and her husband Sidney, a bi-sexual antique dealer. While they have been together for 12 years, Sidney has led "a very gay life" and while he has "never hidden behind a door in his life," he claims he has always been discreet with respect to his dalliances, unlike his wife. When Diana Nichols loses the Academy Award, she gets blotto and becomes increasingly needy and insecure becoming more confrontational and unforgiving regarding her husband's sexual encounters with men. She questions who the young actor was he was speaking to all evening at the ball (who was seated at their table and with whom he shared a butter plate) and asks whether he "carved his phone number in the butter for you." When she learns his name was Adam, she says, "Adam - like the first man - but not the first man in your case." She then taunts him by asking, "Are you upset you didn't get to wear this dress?" to which he finally responds, "Well, if I had, it would've hung properly." After eventually calling her husband a faggot, she apologizes and asks, "Why do you put up with me?" to which he honestly says, "The circle of prospects I suspect" but he also confesses, "I love you more than any woman I've met." Sidney reflects that they probably stay together because "we're both a refuge for our disappointment out there." He truly does love his wife and says "You have half a husband and three-quarters of a career, and you deserve 100% of everything." Sobering up, Diana confesses that Sidney does make love "so sweetly" although she would prefer something more aggressive and passionate as reflected in her request for him to "screw" her and for him to keep his eyes open when they kiss. Finally, she begs, "Let it be me tonight!" 

In the final piece, the Visitors From Chicago, two couples who are best friends, Stu Franklyn and his wife Gert, and Mort Hollender and his wife Beth, are taking a much-needed vacation together. However, as the trip wears on, they get on each other's nerves and after Beth is hurt during a mixed doubles tennis match, Mort accuses Stu of having caused her injury by lobbing the ball when her shoelaces were untied. The situation spirals downwards from there eventually leading to further injuries and physical violence. Gert breaks a glass on the bathroom floor and hits her head on the medicine cabinet. Mort steps on a piece of glass that breaks through his sneaker. Stu kicks Mort in the balls and then bites him. Mort tells Stu and Gert "to buy two cans of Spaulding balls and then shove them up your respective asses." Beth tries to call a doctor but wants one with a name she likes. She directs Mort to tell the hotel the specialty of the doctor she needs for fear that it being Los Angeles, they might send up a psychiatrist. Gert is a compulsive shopper and even bought a perfume named After Tennis immediately after they played tennis. Stu criticizes Mort for selecting all the restaurants and for suggesting they have a Hong Kong suit made in Honolulu that fell apart in the box. This skit shows you how familiarity sometimes breeds contempt. By the end, Mort is choking Stu on the bed demanding he agree to go on vacation with them again next year. Showing a little foresight, Stu holds out and says "I'm not saying that!"

The thing that surprised me the most about California Suite is how well this play has withstood the test of time. The writing is crisp, the stories are interesting, and the respective characters are well-developed. I can easily understand why this play lasted for over a year on Broadway and was eventually made into a movie. It is quite entertaining! Gary Tifeld is a talented professional actor who excels as Marvin, Sidney & Stu, distinguishing each character's particular personality traits with aplomb. Similarly, Matt Stashin shines in the roles of Billy and Mort. Ginger Dalton is a perfect Diana but, in my opinion, she is mismatched agewise when paired with her counterpart in her other roles. When Marvin opened the door to let Millie into the suite, my first impression was that Millie was old enough to be his mother. Finally, Lesley Wade was perfectly disagreeable as Hannah, but only passable in the role of injured Beth. I give Marian Waller, the director, credit for not re-writing and cleansing Neil Simon's script. Simon's use of the word "faggot" was intended as the essential and necessary culmination of Diana's anger in Visitors From London, and his anti-Muslim "sand-nigger" comment about New York City smelling like Mecca exhibits the casual bias that was deemed socially acceptable forty years ago. Kudos to Ms. Waller for having the guts to stick with the original text.

California Suite is playing through February 26, 2017 at Studio Theatre Long Island. The entertainment value you will receive is far greater than the price of admission, which is $25.00. You can purchase tickets online at www.StudioTheatreLI.com. For more information, call 631-226-8400.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Cabaret at The Secret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

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

Based on John Van Druten's 1951 play I Am A Camera
Adapted from the novel Goodbye To Berlin (1939) 
by Christopher Isherwood
Book by Joe Masteroff
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Co-Directed by Hunter Bird & Chloe Treat
Musical Director: Dan Garmon
Choreographer: Chloe Treat
Stage Manager: Michael J. Tosto
Set Designers: Justin & Christopher Swader
Lighting: Paul T. Kennedy
Costume Design: Antonio Consuegra
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, New York 11101
Reviewed 2/3/16  

Cabaret opened on Broadway on November 20, 1966, at the Broadhurst Theatre, transferred to the Imperial Theatre and then the Broadway Theatre before closing on September 6, 1969 after 1,165 performances and 21 previews. The production won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Original Score (John Kander & Fred Ebb), Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Joel Grey), Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Peg Murray), Best Direction of a Musical (Hal Prince), Best Choreography (Ron Field), Best Scenic Design (Boris Aronson), and Best Costume Design (Patricia Zipprodt). The first Broadway revival opened on October 22, 1987 at the Imperial Theatre, eventually transferring to the Minskoff to complete its 261-performance run. Joel Grey received star billing as the Emcee. The second Broadway revival opened after 37 previews on March 19, 1998 at the Kit Kat Klub, housed in what previously had been known as Henry Miller's Theatre. Later that year it transferred to Studio 54, where it remained for the rest of its 2,377-performance run, becoming the third longest-running revival in Broadway musical history, third only to Oh! Calcutta! and Chicago. Alan Cumming was Emcee and the production won Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Alan Cumming), Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Natasha Richardson), and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Ron Rifkin). The show's third Broadway revival was brought back to Studio 54 by the Roundabout Theatre Company, with previews from March 21, 2014 and with opening night being April 24, 2014. Alan Cumming returned as Emcee and the show closed on March 29, 2015. 

Deviance, decadence, and debauchery are the order of the day at the Kit Kat Klub in Berlin, Germany on the eve of the Nazi Party taking power. Cliff Bradshaw, a young man originally from Pennsylvania, has just arrived from London looking for inspiration for his next novel (his first novel was about his childhood). On the train, he meets Ernst Ludwig, a smuggler, who helps him to find an apartment in a building owned and managed by Fraulein Schneider. Cliff Bradshaw doesn't have 100 marks to pay for the apartment (he can only afford 50 marks) but apparently has money to pay for male and female prostitutes in multiple countries. Cliff teaches English for extra money and Ernst tries to help by signing up for classes and getting his friends to do the same. Ernst also invites Cliff to spend New Year's Eve with him at the Kit Kat Klub. While there, Sally Bowles, a 32-year old English cabaret singer, calls his table and offers to buy him a drink. His first instinct is to lie and say he is English instead of American (which should tell you something about his character) but that doesn't stop Cliff from immediately inviting Sally to his apartment for sex. (Sally says no because Max, "the man I'm sleeping with this week" is very jealous). When Max fires her, she appears at Cliff's doorstep and gets him to invite her to stay. When Sally becomes pregnant (not knowing who the father is), she tells Cliff, "I'll do the usual thing" (an abortion). Cliff says, "You've done this before?" to which Sally responds, "Thousands of times" (which might explain the pro-Roe v. Wade political solicitation made during intermission). Cliff implores her not to have an abortion and soon becomes possessive, jealous and physically abusive insisting Sally say goodbye to her friends and leave the country with him. 

Cliff Bradshaw is a violent man with a violent temper. He grabs Sally's arm, pushes her down on the bed, and slaps her when he learns she has given her fur coat to a doctor in exchange for an abortion. His immorality and self-righteousness know no bounds. He has no problem smuggling suitcases of money from Paris to Berlin for Ernst so long as he doesn't explicitly know the political ideology of the party he is smuggling it for but when he accidentally learns Ernst is a Nazi, he becomes angry and refuses to go on any more trips. Cliff Bradshaw had no problem teaching all of Ernst's Nazi friends how to speak English but after seeing a swastika tattoo on his arm,  he suddenly takes the position of moral superiority. Ernst tries to explain the Nazis are "the builders of a new Germany" and that, if he were German, he would understand. When Ernst inquires about the reason for Cliff's coldness (and whether it had to do with his advice to Fraulein Schneider that it might be ill-advised to marry Herr Schultz, a Jew, at this time), Cliff hauls off and punches Ernst in the face. Three of Ernst's friends intervene and beat Cliff up (Cliff's funny line to Sally when she sees the result of the beating was, "You should see the other three guys. Not a mark on them!"). To gain emotional support for his betrayal of Ernst, Cliff demands that Sally starts hating Nazis too, even though she is not in the least bit political (He tells her, "If you're not against what's going on, then you might as well be for it."). Fraulein Schneider takes Ernst's advice and breaks off the engagement with Herr Schultz. As she says, "we can't dismiss the Nazis. Many of them are my friends and neighbors. We must be sensible." Fraulein Schneider utters the funniest line in the musical after she confronts Fraulein Kost for bringing into her apartment a parade of sailors. Fraulein Schneider says, "With all the sailors coming in and out, God only knows what the neighbors think I'm running here - a battleship!" She then sternly warns Fraulein Kost, "If you want to stay here, you must not let me catch you bringing in sailors." Eventually, Cliff Bradshaw leaves Berlin without Sally Bowles but with plenty of new material and inspiration for his new novel.

This production of Cabaret at The Secret Theatre is an unmitigated success. The set and the costumes are magnificent and much effort was put into making the audience feel as if they were patrons in the Kit Kat Klub. The short distance between the actors and the audience creates an atmosphere of intimacy as does the inspired placement of the musicians in every corner of the theater. Seeing this musical is an experience you will not soon forget. It's a winner! While some of the alternative casting choices might at first be a cause for concern, I can assure you a few minutes into the play, you will realize that casting Larry Owens as Emcee and Sue Lynn Yu as Fraulein Schneider were inspired decisions. Larry Owens makes the part his own and his confident stage presence helps you to leave the problems of the world outside because in his club, "life is beautiful." Sue Lynn Yu portrays Fraulein Schneider as a practical, yet sympathetic, character. She had a very big challenge to bring her own unique twist to this role and handled the task extraordinarily well. At the Kit Kat Klub, you are asked if you would like a boy or a girl, but that is a trick question because some of the "girls" are "boys." Of all the Kit Kat Klub girls and boys, the standout performer was Vinny Celeiro, who played Texas ("who's actually from Florida"). Tall and blond with a charismatic stage presence, Mr. Celeiro commanded attention and dominated the chorus line.

Every actor in this production more than holds their own and makes a significant contribution to the show's success. They all deserve credit for a job well done. However, besides the three actors mentioned already, three others are deserving of special recognition. Jeff Hathcoat, an extremely talented, charismatic actor, is brilliant as Ernst Ludwig, a friendly guy who may be a drug dealer and is a regular at the Kit Kat Klub while remaining politically active as a Nazi Party member and operative. It is a complicated role to pull off and he handles it with ease. Jeff Hathcoat is a rising star in the theater. Keep an eye out for him. Alexa Poller was perfect as Fraulein Kost bringing strength, character, and confidence to the part. Finally, Mark Coffin carried off the lovelorn, oblivious Herr Schultz with aplomb. He was a pleasure to watch perform on stage. So many people, on and off stage, spent countless hours to make this production of Cabaret one that is memorable and can stand up to the success of prior productions. There is no doubt The Secret Theatre has achieved this and I urge you to see this show on or before February 19, 2017. Tickets cost $20.00 and can be purchased at www.secrettheatre.com 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Marry Me A Little at The Gallery Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Marry Me A Little at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Marry Me A Little
Conceived by Craig Lucas & Norman Rene
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Barrie Gelles
Performers: Adrian Rifit & Paul Williams
Musical Director: Yi-Hsuan (Sobina) Chi
The Gallery Players 
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 2/2/17

Marry Me A Little contains lesser-known songs written by Stephen Sondheim performed by two young men living in identical studio apartments a floor apart. There is no dialogue and no amplification. The only musical accompaniment comes from a piano. There are no costume changes as these two young single men (performed on different nights by two women and by a man and a woman) sing Sondheim songs about love. The actors never touch but sometimes they do fantasize about being in love and gaze into each other's eyes. They occasionally dance but mainly move about the apartment just living their lives on an evening spent alone unaware of the other's existence. Paul Williams' character has a tendency to drink. Adrian Rifat's character finds sexual pleasure in his expert, penetrating use of a dildo. Both are seen reflecting as they sing the songs in this musical either solo or together. The alternative casting lost its potential emotional impact due to the pronouns in the songs not having been changed to suit the gender variations. The result is Marry Me A Little having been turned into a revue of recondite Stephen Sondheim songs performed without a strong connecting plot. Still, the acting abilities of the two leads turned many of the songs into crowd-pleasers that garnered enthusiastic applause. 

Barrie Gelles, the Director, failed to introduce a sufficient background story to better connect the songs to make the show more interesting. It may also have been the director's fault that the actors sang with little projection. Perhaps they were instructed to keep it real by singing the same way one might sing to oneself but the result was that it was difficult for audience members to make out some of the lyrics. A short in a cable caused an overhead blue spotlight to flicker several times right in the middle of songs. This was extremely distracting. The set was wonderful, realistic and very reminiscent of a typical New York City apartment  I liked the exposed white brick and the two identical apartments were spacious enough for the two actors to move about in the same space without awkwardly running into one another. Both performers were excellent, especially their "acting" while singing. You could feel both actors were completely invested in each and every song. Their voices were up to the task but Paul Williams' voice cracked terribly on one of his first high notes. This may have been because he failed to sufficiently warm up before the performance. Later, he hit lots of high notes well - perhaps because he warmed up during the show. This normally would not have been that big a deal but remember this is a musical show - without lines or long breaks between numbers - sort of like opera (and voice cracking has ended the careers of many in the opera world). The shortness of this musical, running only an hour, also left some audience members wondering whether they got their money's worth of entertainment for the price they paid.

The history and origin of the featured songs are as follows: "If You Can Find Me, I'm Here" is from Evening Primrose, a musical written for television that aired in 1966. "Saturday Night," "So Many People," and "A Moment With You" were all created for Saturday Night, Sondheim's first show that was written in 1954 but not produced until 1997. Many of these songs were cut from earlier versions of Follies (1972): "Can That Boy Foxtrot," "All Things Bright & Beautiful," "Uptown, Downtown," "Who Could Be Blue," "Little White House," and "It Wasn't Meant To Happen." "Bang" and "Silly People" were cut from A Little Night Music (1973). "The Girls Of Summer" was originally written as an instrumental piece for a play by the same name that was produced in 1956; the lyrics were added when the song was used for promotional purposes. "Once Upon A Time" (also known as "Your Eyes Are Blue") was written for A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1962). "Marry Me A Little" and "Happily Ever After" were both cut from the original production of Company (1970) but "Marry Me A Little" was restored in the licensed version in the 1990s and was included in the 1995 and 2006 revivals. "There Won't Be Trumpets" was written for Anyone Can Whistle (1964). 

Marry Me A Little was originally staged by the Off-Off-Broadway Production Company. It opened on October 29, 1980 and closed December 28, 1980. It re-opened March 12, 1981 at the Off-Broadway Actor's Playhouse, where it ran for 96 performances. In late 1998, actor Steve Gideon proposed a revival of the work with the casting of a male same-sex couple to play the leads. Stephen Sondheim gave permission and the new version of the work debuted at the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood, California in 1999. In 2012, the Off-Broadway Keen Company produced a version of the show with a revised song list and an improved dramaturgical arc. With permission from Music Theatre International and Sondheim's representatives, The Gallery Player's production of Marry Me A Little is a version of the show that bridges the 1981 and 2012 versions.

If you are a Stephen Sondheim fan, I would recommend you go out of your way to see this musical. Adrian Rifat and Paul Williams are talented actors who bring emotional depth to many of the songs they perform. I was particularly impressed with Adrian Rifat's rendition of "Marry Me A Little," and "Don't Look For Trumpets," and Paul Williams' performance of "Uptown, Downtown," and "Happily Ever After." Mr. Rifat and Mr. Williams also gave their all to move the audience when singing "Can That Boy Foxtrot," "Little White House," "All Things Bright & Beautiful," "Bang," "Once Upon A Time," and "It Wasn't Meant To Happen." Of the remaining songs, I am sure you will have your favorites. But remember that many of Stephen Sondheim's songs don't have much of an actual melody, and the lyrics tend to be chatty. Many of his songs have zero "hum-ability" and you may be hard-pressed to recall the tunes even immediately after hearing them. Still, devoted Stephen Sondheim fans will adore this musical. In addition, The Gallery Players' superb production of Marry Me A Little contains moments of brilliance that may make your trip to Park Slope well worthwhile. It is just that this musical may not be for everyone. Caution is advised.

Marry Me A Little plays at The Gallery Players through February 18, 2017. Tickets are $25.00 for adults and $20.00 for seniors and children. For reservations and more information, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.galleryplayers.com