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City Center Encores! Sings Strong! in an Awkward “Oliver!”



Young boys are tossed to the front of the stage, like full garbage bags on a New York City street. It’s an apropos beginning, the young thrown away moments before they burst into a magnificently produced song about hunger, malnutrition, child labor, and physical abuse. All at the hands of almost every adult these boys meet in the New York City Center Encores! musically strong revival of Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, the classic award-winning 1960 musical based upon the 1838 novel, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, a man who loved to write about such things time and time again. With music, lyrics, and a book by Bart, who subsequently penned the respectable 1962 hit, Blitz!, and the universal 1965 flop, Twang!! (note the two !!s this time. I guess they thought one was not enough), Oliver! was the smash hit of Bart’s career, giving him awards upon awards, especially once the show was turned into the Oscar-winning 1968 film of the same name. The cinematic word for Oliver! was “More“, or so says the trailer, yet I have very little memory of the film. It never really connected to me when I was younger, although I have slight memories of a kindly complicated Nancy (Shani Wallis) full of life and suffering for it, and the beautifully voiced young boy (Mark Lester) lost in the cold cruel world, but who knew he wanted more.

The same could be said of the revival at NYCC’s Encores! It’s gloriously performed, sung to the heavens with a spectacularly rich sound emulating from The Encores! Orchestra headed by music director Mary-Mitchell Campbell (Broadway’s The Prom) with stellar orchestrations by William David Brohn (Broadway’s Ragtime) and music coordination by Kimberlee Wertz (Broadway’s Almost Famous). Elevated high above the crowded underbelly of the poor and destitute children that we first encounter tossed to the edge of the stage, all before bursting into the memorable “Food, Glorious Food“, the remounting, by special arrangement with Cameron MacIntosh, sings out loud and clear. The number serves up a musical feast, chock full of songs that take you back, even when they make you a bit uncomfortable when you take a deeper dive into what this musical is all about.

But let’s, for the moment, put aside the awkward layers of child labor, starvation, and abuse, heaped upon these poor young boys by almost every scheming adult character on that stage, as well as Nancy’s problematic song of abuse, “As Long As He Needs Me“, gorgeously performed by a stellar Lilli Cooper (Broadway’s Tootsie) making us almost forget what she is actually singing about. She’s that good in the role. Instead, let us focus on the formula and the feast, that includes one messy complicated book that needs a really good cleansing before this show can have a modern return to Broadway. That and some restructuring all around to make the piece a smoother ride down memory lane.

Rashidra Scott, Benjamin Pajak, and Thom Sesma in NYCC Encores! production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! Photo by Joan Marcus.

Yet, all of the performers do their unbelievable magic with the material, which is particularly astounding knowing the quick turnaround of Encores! staging and the athleticism and skill needed to perform the choreography created by Lorin Latarro (Broadway’s Into the Woods). The cast uniformly finds all their flips, kicks, and moments to shine bright, even in the smaller parts and the more unfocused bits of traveling and transition. First off, there is the wonderful pairing of the despicable (and hilarious) Mr. Bumble and Widow Carney, played devilishly good by Brad Oscar (Broadway’s Mrs. Doubtfire) and Mary Testa (Broadway’s Oklahoma!), as well as the beautifully matched dasterdly funeral parlor owners, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (and Co.), portrayed wisely and wickedly by Thom Sesma (CSC’s A Man of No Importance) and Rashidra Scott (Broadway’s Company), who take over the stage with their delicious debauchery. Perfect work by some expert performers.

But they are no match for the feisty Oliver Twist, who is magnificently well-sung by Benjamin Pajak (Broadway’s The Music Man), as the young boy who never fails to stand up for himself, especially when he, famously, wants some more. He’s a tad stiff in the acting department, I’m sorry to say, but the musical and the book don’t really give him much to do beyond being the center peg for which all else revolves. Even when those wheels are pretty white umbrellas twirling the cast down the lane so beautifully.

Oliver, when not singing, is quite the passive character, for the most part. He responds and reacts, sitting on the sidelines while the adults do their dirty work all around him. That is unless he is standing up for his empty tummy or his dead mother’s honor. Then he becomes something quite proactive and aggressive. This is particularly true in the second act when he basically is haphazardly tossed around like a bag of potatoes from one evil man’s shoulder to another’s table, barely registering as anything rebellious or rambunctious in these wild moments. The book fails to take us through from one moment to another, faltering time and time again to give us a sense of emotional connection or an understanding of why and how bonds this strong are made. We just have to believe, as it goes forward, and accept, even when it doesn’t really add up.

The cast of NYCC Encores! production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! Photo by Joan Marcus.

The production doesn’t seem to know what to do with Oliver in the second half, nor does it know how to deal with the violent deaths of the lovely Nancy and the demon Bill Sikes, portrayed red and darkly violent by Tam Mutu (Broadway’s Moulin Rouge!), that happens up in the dark shadowy corners somewhat vague and clumsily. It’s here where the set, designed by David Rockwell (Broadway’s A Beautiful Noise), lit by designer Justin Townsend (Broadway’s Jagged Little Pill) under the unfocused direction of Lear deBessonet (Encores’ Big River), with sound designed by Alex Neumann (Encores/Broadway’s Into the Woods), that Oliver! loses its footing and drive. The space seems to swallow up the action, expanding some moments while crowding in others. It’s only when Pajak gets the chance to vocally shine, as he does with his magnificently well-sung “Where Is Love?“, that nothing else seems to matter. And nothing else comes close.

The other highlight of the show, beyond the wonderfully convincing Cooper as the complicated but feisty Nancy, enters casually, strolling out from under the beams juggling a few handkerchiefs around like a traveling magician. In the well-orchestrated guise of Fagin, deliciously and wildly created by Raúl Esparza (Broadway’s Company; Encores! Off-Center’s’ Road Show), the conman feels like a friend and a foe all wrapped up in a bright long jacket, courtesy of some fine work by costume designer Sarafina Bush (Broadway’s Pass Over). His creation is something of a mystery and awkward confusion, and even though brilliantly entertaining, we wonder what all that fuss is about the jewelry box (thrown away so casually later on) or why he takes such an intital shine to the young Oliver, even with his loyal sidekick, the wonderfully delivered Artful Dodger, portrayed strongly by Julian Lerner (“Boys of Summer“), standing nearby and presenting Oliver up so caringly. The two bright jacket pickpockets are the first to give Oliver a sense of familial care, even as it feels quite quick and shady. But so much of this musical has that aspect, with numerous quick uncomfortable jumps to illogical conclusions. We just have to pick a pocket or two and join in the fun, or we will get left in the dust thinking about it all too much.

Julian Lerner, Benjamin Pajak (center, l-r), and the young cast of NYCC Encores! production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! Photo by Joan Marcus.
Now I’m not sure if I missed something, but all of a sudden Oliver has been grabbed by the police after a failed pickpocket mess, and is now in the rich and warm care of Mr. Brownlow, politely portrayed by Michael Siberry (LCT’s JUNK) with a sturdy Mrs. Bedwin, played by Alma Cuervo (CSC’s A Man of No Importance), by his side ready to give little Oliver a big hug and squeeze. As we are left to wonder, “Who Will Buy” all of this, the book really does seem to lack the narrative drive that we have become used to in more modern musicals, alongside the other part it displays; the disquieting idea that a high-kicking musical jumping over all these horrors is supposed to be (and sorta is) this much fun.

It’s a Fine Life” or is it for Oliver!? The music is pretty divine and gorgeously performed, with joyous dance numbers and sublime comic bits that delight and entertain. Esparza, Cooper, and especially Pajak do their damn best vocalizing and enlivening the material inside every song and dance. Yet, if Encores! was hoping this would become another Parade or, even better yet, something as successful as the Into the Woods Broadway transfer, I think they’ve been conned. Some work needs to be done, restructuring that structure that slowed this production down, and more importantly, some deft rewriting of that complicated book to remake Oliver! into some “food, glorious food“, and a treat that we will have no problem devouring. Hungry or not.

The cast of NYCC Encores! production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! Photo by Joan Marcus.

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My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to


Barry Manilow’s and Bruce Sussman’s Harmony Meets The Press Part 2



Yesterday we told you how the cast and creative’s met the press

The cast and creatives

In today’s edition hear director Warren Carlyle, Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman describe their show.

The it was a treat as the cast sang 5 songs from the show. Including “Harmony,” Hungarian Rhapsody,” “Where You Go’ and “Stars in the Night.”

Hear The Harmonists Sean Bell, Danny Kornfeld, Zal Owen, Eric Peters, Blake Roman and Steven Telsey, along with Chip Zien, Sierra Boggess and Julie Benko.

The hit song of the show will be the gorgeous ballad “Every Single Day” sung by Danny Kornfeld.

Harmony begins previews at the Barrymore Theatre on Wednesday, October 18, ahead of a Monday, November 13 official opening night.

Photo’s by Genevieve Rafter Keddy


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The Glorious Corner



G.H. Harding

JESSE L MARTIN — We caught the debut of Jesse L. Martin’s The Irrational Monday night and really enjoyed it. I’ve been aware of Jesse since his role in Broadway’s Rent and he’s really tremendous. He was great on Law & Order as Ed Green (10 years and 9 seasons); and his role on the CW’s The Flash (as Joe West) was simply terrific.

The show, based on the book by Dan Ariely and created by Arika Mittman, certainly reminds one of The Mentalist or Instinct. This first case isn’t wondrous by any means, but Martin’s charisma carries it all through.

Lauren Holly (NCIS) is in it too, thought her one-scene was over and out in a flash.

I hear the third episode of the show is magnificent, so stay tuned. Don Johnson said many years ago that Don Johnson was made for TV … so is Martin!

Will Swenson and Neil Diamond

SWENSON OUT — (per Deadline) Will Swenson will play his final performance as Neil Diamond in Broadway’s A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical on Sunday, Oct. 29, producers announced today.

A replacement for the starring role will be announced at a future date.

“It’s been the thrill of a lifetime to get to stand in Neil’s shoes,” Swenson said in a statement. “It’s been such an incredible honor to get to know Neil, to tell his powerful story, and bring his amazing songs to Broadway audiences every night. I’m immensely proud of the moving, beautiful show we made. I will miss it very much.”

A reason for Swenson’s departure was not disclosed, but his planned departure date suggests a year-long contract coming to a close: He and the bio-musical began previews at the Broadhurst Theatre last Nov. 2 (official opening was Dec. 4).

“Making A Beautiful Noise with Will Swenson was a deep and wonderful experience,” said director Michael Mayer. “The true affection he has for Neil’s work and life is palpable in every aspect of his tremendous performance. I will miss him terribly, of course, but will always treasure our time together, and very much look forward to the next show we do.”

Swenson has been one of Broadway’s go-to leading men since his breakthrough performance in 2009’s Hair, and he has since starred on the New York stage in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Little Miss Sunshine, Waitress and Assassins, among many other shows.

In addition to Swenson, the cast of A Beautiful Noise features a principal cast of Mark Jacoby as the aged Neil Diamond, Robyn Hurder and Shirine Babb.

The musical includes a score of Diamond’s hits, a book by Anthony McCarten, direction by Mayer, and choreography by Steven Hoggett.

He’s pretty tremendous as Diamond. I didn’t see the show straight away, but absolutely loved it when I did. His exit of kind of short notice … but let’s see what happens.

SHORT TAKES — How about those snappy new graphics for NBC’s Today Show. Introduced a week ago, they certainly look more relevant and certainly more fun. They did the same for Nightly News a week ago. Per TVNewser:The network said the decision to unveil a new logo and graphics for Nightly was made as a way of appealing to younger viewers who primarily consume news using digital media. It’s safe to assume is true for Today, the youngest-skewing of the linear morning shows that boasts a robust digital presence. Here’s their whole story:,effects%20as%20the%20previous%20design%20%E2%80%A6

The Rolling Stones

The next Rolling Stones single, “Sweet Sounds of Heaven,” is tremendous. Mick hasn’t sounded this good in years and Lady Gaga is an added treat. Magnificent! Take a listen:

Donnie Kehr

Donnie Kehr and Cori Gardner’s Rockers On Broadway (their 30th edition) is coming up on Monday, October 16 at SONY Hall. 

Debbie Gibson

Joining honoree Melissa Etheridge will be KT Tunstall and Debbie Gibson, Simon Kirke, Dan Finnerty and Ty Taylor … Happy Bday Chuck Taylor!

NAMES IN THE NEWS –— Anthony Noto; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Paul Lester; Ian Harrison; Magda Katz; Pete Townshend; Miko Blanco; Brad LeBeau; Mal Evans; Derek Taylor; Andrew Sandoval; Rick Rubin; Bill Adler; Cory Robbins; Manny Bella; Race Taylor; Scott Shannon; Buddy Blanch; Steve Walter; Benny Harrison; and BELLA!

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Barry Manilow’s and Bruce Sussman’s Harmony Meets The Press



Harmony, has been in rehearsals for 3 weeks and yesterday morning, they meet the press.

Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow, wrote the original music.

Bruce Sussman

Bruce Sussman, who wrote the book and lyrics

Warren Carlyle

Warren Carlyle

director/choreographer Warren Carlyle

Ken Davenport

and producer Ken Davenport started the show off to a harmonious roll. Harmony begins previews Wednesday, October 18, ahead of a Monday, November 13 official opening night.

Many of the cast are making their Broadway debuts with Harmony, including 5 of the 6 actors playing the Harmonists.

The Harmonists, along with Chip Zien finished out the morning with a performance of the song “Stars in the Night.”

Chip Zien

The production also stars performers Sierra Boggess and Julie Benko.

Sierra Boggess

Julie Benko

Tomorrow meet the men of Harmony

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Cabaret, Talks and Concerts For October



The question would be, what to pick to go see, out of the multitude of offerings. Here are our picks for October

92 Street Y: 1395 Lexington Ave. 10/1: Dr. Jane Goodall in Conversation with David Rubenstein; 10/4: Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis: Martha Stewart; 10/9: “Gutenberg! The Musical!”: Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells in Conversation with MTV’s Josh Horowitz; 10/10: Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conversation: BE USEFUL: Seven Tools for Life; 10/12: Audra McDonald: Musings through Music with Andy Einhorn and 10/28 – 30: Tale as Old as Time: The Songs of Howard Ashman

Birdland Jazz: 315 West 44 St. Every Monday at 9:30pm Jim Caruso’s Cast Party; Every Tuesday at 8:30pm The Lineup with Susie Mosher; Every Saturday at 7pm Eric Comstock with Sean Smith (Bass) & special guest Barbara Fasano (Voice); 10/2: A Collective Cy Jeff Harner sings Cy Coleman; 10/9: The Unprecedented Amanda Green & Friends; 10/16: Maude Maggart: “Here Come The Dreamers” and 10/23: Jamie deRoy and Friends and 10/26 -28: Karrin Allyson: “Brazilian Nights And Beyond” Feat. Vitor Goncalves, Rafael Barata & Harvie S.

Cafe Carlyle: 35 E 76th St. 10/3-7: Peter Cincotti; 10/11 -14: Patina Miller; 10/17 – 28 John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molaskey and 10/31 – 11/8: Steve Tyrell

Hailey Kilgore by Tom Lupton, Derek Klena by Jenny Anderson, Javier Muñoz by Chad Griffith, Ali Stroker by Jenny Anderson

Carnegie Hall: 881 7th Ave at 57th St. 10/2: Lyle Lovett and His Large Band; 10/18: A Very Good+ Night of Comedy with Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Hart, Jim Gaffigan, Amy Schumer & Ronny Chieng
Special Guest D-Nice and 10/27: The New York Pops with Hailey Kilgore, Derek Klena, Javier Muñoz and Ali Stroker 

Chelsea Table + Stage: Hilton Fashion District Hotel, 152 W 26th St. 10/20: Marieann Meringolo

Don’t Tell Mama: 343 W. 46 St. 10/28: Quinn Lemley

Dizzys Club Coca Cola: Frederick P. Rose Hall, Broadway at 60th Street. 10/1: Songbook Sundays: Harold Arlen

The DJango: 2 Avenue of the Americas.

54 Below:
254 West 54 St. 10/2 The New York Pops Underground; 10/2, 17, 28 and 30: Norbert Leo Butz Sings Torch Songs for a Pandemic; 10/3, 7 and 11 Linda Eder; 10/5 -6 Mauricio Martínez: 5’11” Based in NYC, feat. Linedy Genao & more!; 10/8: Little By Little Reunion Concert, feat. Darrin Baker, Liz Larsen, and Christiane Noll; 10/12: Lee Roy Reams: Uncensored! For Adults Only!’ 10/14 -16 and 23 -25 and 30: Marilyn Maye; 10/20 – 21: Lorna Luft; 10/22: A Gentleman’s Guide 10th Anniversary Celebration and 10/ 26 -28: Jai Rodriguez: A Thousand Sweet Kisses

The Green Room 42: 570 10th Ave. 10/9: Natalie Joy Johnson; 10/11 – 12, 14 -15: Candace Bushnell; 10/15: Reeve Carney; 10/17: Spencer Day; 10/19 Mamie Paris and 10/24: Dawn Derow and Sean Harkness

Sony Hall: 235 W. 46th St. 10/4:Daniel Nardicio presents Witch Perfect An all live-singing parody of Disney’s Hocus Pocus feat. Emmy-winning stars from RuPaul’s Drag Race: Scarlet Envy, Tina Burner & Alexis Michelle and 10/16: Rockers on Broadway 30th Anniversary

Theatre at the West Bank Café: 407 West 42 St. 10/14 and 28: Mark Nadler – CRAZY

The Triad: 158 W. 72 St. 

The Town Hall: 123 West 43rd Street. 10/10: A Not That Fancy Conversation and Performance with Reba Mcentire and 10/11: Alec Baldwin’s Here’s The Thing Live With Michael Wolff

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Midnight Moment For October Presents Circadian Nocturne



In October from 11:57pm – 12am, artist Anna Ridler introduces a new kind of countdown clock in Times Square. Using complex algorithms to explore non-human ways of keeping time, Ridler’s Circadian Nocturnefeatures AI-generated animations of night-blooming and night scented flora – queen of the night cactuses, the moonflower, night-blooming jasmine, night phlox, and evening stock. Painterly petals slowly blossom into a dreamlike garden — chronobiological clocks set against the mechanical and digital structures that set the pace of our contemporary lives.

Created with artificial intelligence and a high-tech machine that can keep time at an atomic level, Circadian Nocturne also pairs modern, highly precise computerized timekeeping methods with the often unpredictable and imprecise imagery created by autonomous digital software and is part of an ongoing project exploring time and technology. Welcoming this tension, Ridler visually obscures tech-based accuracy with something more organic and in sync with the natural landscape.

Launching in the fall, an artist-designed mobile app featuring a smaller, single screen version of the project and an original musical score by composer William Marsey will accompany the Times Square presentation of Circadian Nocturne, allowing for more intimate experience of the work from anywhere in the world.

Based in London, Anna Ridler is an artist and researcher who works with systems of knowledge and how technologies are created in order to better understand the world. She is particularly interested in ideas around measurement and quantification and how this relates to the natural world. Her process often involves working with collections of information or data, particularly datasets, to create new and unusual narratives.

Ridler holds an MA in Information Experience Design from the Royal College of Art and a BA in English Literature and Language from Oxford University along with fellowships at the Creative Computing Institute at University of the Arts London. Her work has been exhibited at cultural institutions worldwide including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Barbican Centre, Centre Pompidou, HeK Basel, the ZKM Karlsruhe, Ars Electronica, Sheffield Documentary Festival and the Leverhulme Centre for Future Intelligence. She was a European Union EMAP fellow and the winner of the 2018-2019 DARE Art Prize. Ridler has received commissions by Salford University, the Photographers Gallery, Opera North, and Impakt Festival. She was listed as one of the nine “pioneering artists” exploring AI’s creative potential by Artnet and received an honorary mention in the 2019 Ars Electronica Golden Nica award for the category AI & Life Art. She was nominated for a “Beazley Designs of the Year” award in 2019 by the Design Museum for her work on datasets and categorization.

Meta builds technologies that help people connect, find communities, and grow businesses. When Facebook launched in 2004, it changed the way people connect. Apps like Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp further empowered billions around the world. Now, Meta is moving beyond 2D screens toward immersive experiences like augmented and virtual reality to help build the next evolution in social technology.

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