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Deanna Jelardi as Nita Raya,Ken Straus, Maurice

Deanna Jelardi as Nita Raya with Ken Straus as Maurice Angie Kremer Photography

Making Spring Time for Hitler look like a masterpiece Defendant Maurice Chevalier, is two and half hours, I will never get back. Written by Alexis Chevalier, the grandson of the late great Maurice Chevalier, this young man is exploiting and capitalizing on his birth. He is neither a playwright nor an actor. Earlier in his career, in a workshop production at his acting school, he played his grandfather. One of the most ridiculous parts of the play is when the playwright states Irving Thalberg let Chevalier out of his contract, out of a good heart. No way, there was a dispute and it is even written about, so the playwright did not even do his homework. To make matters worse the play is laden with ridiculous fantasies that make no sense and musical and dance sequences, when this is not the cast who can move. Add numerous scenes (51) that are repetitive and you can understand why this is a must miss.

The cast is not horrible per say, they just don’t have any charisma, so we felt nothing. The original Chevalier oozed charm; he had a lilt to his voice and a heavy French accent with a guttural purr. Ken Straus in the title role has the laid back quality, but his voice is week, his dancing stiff, the accent is in and out, mostly out and he is not an actor.

The show tries to cover Maurice Chevalier (1888-1972) life. Chevalier was extremely popular in cabaret, concerts, Broadway and films. He was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor in 1930, and received an honorary Oscar for his role in Gigi in 1958. After a dispute with Irving Thalberg over billing, he left Hollywood in 1935, and returned to France as the rumors of Hitler were beginning.  In 1937, he married the much younger Jewish performer Nita Raya (Deanna Jelardi). During the German Occupation he starred in revues becoming popular with the Germans. His wife was in hidden in unoccupied France. His performance in a German prison camp for French prisoners of war later led to charges of treasonous collaboration. Seen through a series of flashbacks, Chevalier (Straus) tells his story.

The only scene that works is the one when German Major Steinsteiger (Ben Rademacher) breaks down about losing his wife and son and that is because this is the one actor who can actually act.

Deanna Jelardi is youthful, sings with a decent if week voice and can dance, but ironically is stiff when not dancing.

Sam Schall as Chevalier’s accompanist can at least play the piano well.

Director Alex Notkin did not know when to tell his writer to cut and has indulged this production with so many set changes that they in themselves become scenes.

The choreography by Elena Notkina and Inna Muratova was passable, but useless and made no sense.

Maurice Chevalier, was a wonderful performer, but as you can see in the video. This show is more of self gratification piece that uses the audience as their extremity.

Defendant Maurice Chevalier: American Theatre of Actors, John Cullum Theatre, 314 West 54th St. Close Feb. 21st.

Opening photo Ken Straus as Maurice Chevalier (Maurice in Performance) Angie Kremer Photography.

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

Ken Fallin's Broadway

Ken Fallin’s Broadway:​ Inspired By True Events A New Play by Ryan Spahn

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Off-Broadway’s Out of the Box Theatrics is presenting Inspired By True Events, a new play by Ryan Spahn.

In the green room of a community theater in Rochester, the Uptown Players are getting ready to play to a full house after opening to rave reviews the night before. When their star actor arrives in a dangerously unhinged state, they must improvise on and off stage in ways they could not have imagined. By turns hilarious, harrowing, and horrifying, Inspired By True Events follows a tenacious group of show people who must determine at what cost the show must go on.

Inspired By True Events received development workshops with New York Stage & Film, Vineyard Theatre and EST.

Knud Adams is directing, and the cast will feature Lou Liberatore, Jack DiFalco, Mallory Portnoy, and Dana Scurlock. The play opens July 17 at 154 Christopher Street (formerly the New Ohio Theatre). The play was developed by Michael Urie.

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Obituaries

Saying Good Bye To Dr. Ruth

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“I was left with a feeling that because I was not killed by the Nazis — because I survived — I had an obligation to make a dent in the world,” Dr. Westheimer stated.

Becoming Dr. Ruth was a compelling play that chronicled the remarkable journey of Karola Siegel, who was best known as Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the iconic sex therapist. Dr. Ruth’s escape from the Nazis as a child, her time as a sniper in Jerusalem, and her courageous pursuit of success in America as a single mother, Becoming Dr. Ruth was and is about a triumphant spirit. On July 12, 2024 Dr. Ruth passed on at her home in Manhattan. She was 96.

Sex sells and Ruth Westheimer, a child survivor of the Holocaust who was a sex therapist knew that. At a time when the world didn’t talk about sex Dr Ruth’s frankness led to a long-running radio and television call-in shows. She was the go-to for tips on the art and science of lovemaking.

The sexual revolution that began in the 60’s but the world was still repressed on subjects like erectile dysfunction, masturbation, fantasies and orgasms.

Dr. Ruth was not the typical radio and TV personality, She stood at 4-foot-7, she was bedecked in pearls, and had a recognizable German-inflected voice.

Dr. Westheimer was over 50 when she debuted in 1980 on New York’s WYNY with “Sexually Speaking.” The radio program started out in 15-minute segments and was later syndicated and extended to two hours to accommodate those who were curious. There was also “Good Sex With Dr. Ruth Westheimer,” She was a frequent guest on late-night talk shows.

After surviving the Nazis, she went to Israel, where she joined the Haganah paramilitary group fighting for Jewish statehood (and where, she said, she lost her virginity in a hayloft). After that to France and to New York. As Dr. Westheimer she taught university courses in human sexuality before a producer at WYNY, an NBC affiliate, booked her for quarter-hour segment, first broadcast on Sundays after midnight. Within a year, she was on prime time at 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.

She wasn’t the first on-air therapist, but the most remembered.

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Off Broadway

The Journals of Adam and Eve The World’s First Love Story Starring Hal Linden and Marilu Henner

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photo by Paul Aphisit

“Some day we’ll look back on this and laugh.”

The Journals of Adam and Eve The World’s First Love Story starring Hal Linden and Marilu Henner is a master class in acting. Created by Emmy-winning comedy writer Ed Weinberger (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, The Cosby Show), the show is very reminiscent of Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve. Ultimately an endearing love story, the  show records the couple’s initial ambivalence to growth within themselves and in love.

Done like a reading, the actors are in black street clothes. They refer to their scripts from adjoining music stands. There is water on small tables and a chair for each.

Hal Linden and Marilu Henner are very amusing and powerful storytellers. Linden’s journey as Adam, starts off with “Much to my amazement, I was born a full-grown man,” to “It wasn’t the Garden of Eden. Not by a long shot.” We meet and see a man who is flawed, childlike in full blown ego to a man content with the journey. It is truly funny to see Mr. Linden recall his favorite herb. “A few swallows of the bud and I soon found myself wolfing down handfuls of figs drenched in honey and sprinkled with crunchy chili peppers. It also made me giggle when I counted my fingers.”

Henner commands the stage squeezing every laugh out of goading Adam, flirting in a way that is subtle and innocent. When he tries to rule over her she states; “Well, it just so happens that this living thing that ‘moveth’ is not one of your birds, fishes, or any other animal you have dominion over. So maybe you and this God ought to have another little talk about who is whoest and what is whateth.”

As the mysteries of life and love are explored desire, discoveries, temptation, lust, being the world’s first parents, joys, sorrows, separation and contentment in their twilight years all are explained and shown in a way that makes you think.

This thought-provoking comedy’s makes you wonder did we ever really know the first couple, that in a strange way has influenced all of our lives?

Amy Anders Corcoran’s direction is simple, yet effective and you will leave the theatre more satisfied than Adama dn Eve after they bit that apple.

The Journals of Adam and Eve: The Sheen Center, Loreto Theater, 18 Bleecker Street, until July 28th

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Off Broadway

Cats – The Jellical Ball at PAC NYC Death Drops Deliriously Divine and Feline-Free

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This is a ball darling, emote!” and with the glitter dust blown off an iconic album, this Jellicle Ball reimaging eyes the runway in classic form, giving a nod to the old, but radically restructuring this new version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats with divine aplomb. The shadow ballet to the overture, as directed by Zhailon Levingston (Broadway’s Chicken and Biscuits) and Bill Rauch (LCT’s The Great Society) with choreography by Arturo Lyons (Madonna’s Celebration Tour) and Omari Wiles (Les Ballet Afrik), sets fire to the excited crowd that has gathered around the runway at PAC NYC, giving mystical divinity to Gay Pride Saturday. It’s clearly the musical theatrical event of the summer, with nothing else coming close, other than a few shows that are coming to an end after reaping the awards of a Post-Tony upswing. And I couldn’t feel more blessed as I took my seat right behind the two special guests who were seated on each side of an empty throne. So prepare yourselves, kittens, for what is about to come, because it’s not what you remember. Not at all. It’s something very different, and magically magnificent in ways I could never have imagined before this construction. It has meaning, deeper than when it first crawled in from the streets, and a unifying sense of community that registers far beyond what one could have anticipated, culturally and emotionally.

For anyone of a certain age, this musical, Cats, which started out in the West End at the New London Theatre in May 1981, was a phenomenon that was unparalleled at the time. Interesting fact: Judi Dench was originally cast to play the glamour cat but tore her Achilles tendon during rehearsal and was replaced by Elaine Paige.  Later, it opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1982 with Buckley as Grizabella. Her 1983 Tony-winning performance has etched itself firmly into our collective theatrical minds with all of its pain, beauty, and power. I was not lucky enough to have seen either Buckley or Paige as Grizabella, but I did see Cats for the first time at the newly opened historic Elgin Theatre in Toronto in 1985.  It was a big deal for me and the city when this famous show ushered in a new period of theatrical renewal for Toronto, and I, as a university student studying Theatre Design at York University, could not wait to see it.

André De Shields in Cats – The Jellicle Ball at PAC NYC. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.

I had worn out my record (or was it a cassette tape?) listening to all of those unique and exciting songs over and over again. I cannot tell you who played the part in the Canadian production for this two-and-a-half-year run (if you can tell me, I’d love to know) but I can honestly admit that I loved the experience. An idea that both tells you the state of theatre at the time, and how this musical, even if it has gained a certain level of disdain and unpopularity in the modern theatrical world, ignited something in our collective consciousness that hadn’t been seen on stage before it purred its way forward. It was revolutionary, even as we look back at it down our more enlightened noses.

When I saw the 2016 Cats revival, directed again by Trevor Nunn, it was like revisiting an old magician friend, but one that I had hoped would have tried a few new tricks, and maybe given us a bit different twist.  Cats, to be frank, is a ridiculously silly show in terms of modern-day musical theatre, but I do recognize that at the time, back in 1985, it was historic. Cats started a theatrical trend or model, whether you like it or not, for producers to create what was to be called the ‘megamusical’ phenomenon. It quickly established a global market for musical theatre, focusing the industry towards establishing big-budget blockbusters, as well as creating a theatrical entertainment landscape devoted to family and tourist-friendly shows. The musical’s profound but polarising influence also reshaped the aesthetic, technology, and marketing of the medium for the better, or maybe the worse for the industry today.  It changed what musicals were allowed to be.  And I get that.  But some shows don’t age so well.  Don’t get me wrong, Cats is not a bad show in any way but it was running out of lives, and needed viewing through a completely different lens.

The cast of Cats – The Jellicle Ball at PAC NYC. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.
But who could have guessed it would be reborn most brilliantly on the runway of Harlem Ballroom; a culture made iconic in shows like 2018’s “Pose“, as well as in the video for Malcolm McLaren’s “Deep in Vogue“, released in 1989, and Madonna’s “Vogue“, released in 1990, one year before the ground-breaking documentary “Paris Is Burning“, which really brought the iconic framework into our cultural sensibilities. They all did in their own ways, but co-directors Levingston and Rauch (artistic director of PAC NYC) took on this dusty ALW musical, that was famously inspired by “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T. S. Eliot, and sent it swirling and voguing itself into an astounding new Heaviside Layer (the Cats version of heaven), reforming and rebirthing these former felines into something very different, and absolutely earth-shakeringly fabulous.
Their new Cats has been reborn and redesigned, throwing itself into the competitive Ballroom Scene with a confident power that is intoxicating and electrifying. Played out on a long runway space running from the windows to the judges’ table, designed with a spirited sense by Rachel Hauck (Broadway’s Hadestown; MCC’s The Wrong Man), the newly formed megamusical delivers its mega reframing with an African-American and Latino underground LGBTQ+ subcultural slant, rolled out with pride and self-assurance. The retooling has nothing to do with the four-legged feline. These ‘cats’ are performative alter-ego contestants; magnificent and creative, competing in a captivating, integrated competition that has its historic soul coming from drag balls of the mid-19th Century. And those balls, in response to increasing racism and homophobia, evolved in the 20th Century into house Ballroom Competitions, where Black and Latino participants would ‘walk’ the runway in a variety of categories, resulting in the awarding of trophies and cash prizes. The framework is perfection for these personality introductions, and these ‘cats’ are ready to revel and death-drop dip into these historic roots like no one could have ever imagined possible.The newly formed framing works its magic throughout, creating community within the Cats clan of chosen names and chosen family. Adam Honoré (Broadway’s Ain’t No Mo’) delivers a spectacle in lights alongside the solid sound design by Kai Harada (Broadway’s Kimberly Akimbo), as does the recreated iconic projections by Brittany Bland (Public’s A Raisin in the Sun) that honor, enhance, and elevate. But like any ballroom competition, memorable magic is forever created in the costumes designed masterfully by Qween Jean (TNG’s Black No More) and the wigs created by Nikiya Mathis (Broadway’s Home), and neither let this ball drop.

Sydney James Harcourt and the cast of Cats – The Jellicle Ball at PAC NYC. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.

Competing in an assortment of Ballroom categories like “Butch Queen Realness” and “Old Way vs. New Way” voguing, the cast fly themselves forward, finding authenticity in their irresistibility. It’s powerful exciting and theatrical, while only once purring itself a bit too closely to the actual idea of playing Cats. That moment aside, everyone in the cast is beyond excellent, dipping themselves down into death at the drop of a hat, while playing with the structure and feline concepts most majestically. The incredibly sexy Sydney James Harcourt (Public’s Girl From the North Country) makes an irresistible Rum Tum Tugger, winning his trophy easily, while Emma Sofia (Broadway’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as Skimbleshanks, loses by a whisker. Antwayn Hopper (Broadway’s A Strange Loop) as Macavity steals the scene in designer labels with tags still attached, while later on, ballroom legend Junior LaBeija delivers a touchingly sweet spiriting as Asparagus, the old theater cat. But it is the long-legged “Magical Mr. Mistoffelees“, embodied by the mega-talented Robert “Silk” Mason (“Into the Colors“), that truly brings all that brilliance to the forefront, and ties it all together with such talent and presence.

But really we are all waiting for the arrival of Old Deuteronomy, knowingly played most deliciously regal by André De Shields (Broadway’s Hadestown) to take his seat on the throne. His entrance and demeanor couldn’t have been more perfect for the part, carrying himself forward like many of the trophies given out by MC Munkustrap, portrayed dutifully well by Dudney Joseph Jr. (Public’s The Harder They Come), to the young contestant kitties vying for Old D’s respectful nod. As in the traditional telling of this tale, a tribe of ‘cats’ called the Jellicles have come before the honorable Old Deuteronomy to make the “Jellicle choice”, deciding which of the many worthy cats assembled will ascend up to the Heaviside Layer and come back to the world in a new life. Here, under the strongly focused eyes of its determined directors, the lens has shifted yet remained tuned into the competitive introductions of ‘cats’ vying for the ultimate award of the night. And the experiment works, better than any of us could have dreamed or hoped for.

André De Shields (center) and the cast of Cats – The Jellicle Ball at PAC NYC. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.

It’s a deliciously delivered radical relayering, that completely renders us helpless against the talented ‘cats’ laid out before us, choreographed to the heavens, and performed to energetic perfection by an astounding cast. Anyone familiar with this musical knows we are all waiting for the one who has fallen on hard times, the formally glamorous Grizabella, usually played by “Tempress” Chasity Moore, but on this particular night, understudy Garnet Williams (Parity’s At Hotel MacGuffin) majestically donned the smudged lipstick and ripped coat, delivering the goods with extreme gusto. The other cats pull back and away from her at first, but it’s only a matter of time until Grizabella is given the floor, and Williams, thanks to the strong musical supervision and music direction by William Waldrop (Broadway’s Evita; Cats) and Beats arranger Trevor Holder (Brian Jackson’s Gotta Play; Broadway’s The Wiz), weaves some “Memory” magic all around her, shining radiantly upwards to the Heaviside Layer in shimmering majestic fashion. It’s an exit worthy of the work being done here, and the supreme magic created in this radically magnificent restructuring of Cats – The Jellical Ball. Let’s hope this ‘radical reimagined’ production has a few more lives to live, and runways to walk. Is Circle in the Square its next alley cat Ballroom? Or are the whisperings I hear wrong?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrfstFrQKccTo see the video click here.

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Off Broadway

Empire: The Musical Wants To Be What It Is Not

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I was so looking forward to Empire: The Musical. I was impressed at the press meet and greet, as well as the video on Youtube with the musical scoring, sadly it did not hit the mark. The book by Caroline Sherman and Robert Hull is confusing and doesn’t allow for us to become emotionally involved. For the most part the show takes place in Great Depression, however it starts off in 1976 and is seen through Sylvie Lee (Julia Louise Hosack the understudy for Jessica Ranville) eyes. My first question becomes how did Sylvie get to the era of the Great Depression and interact with it considering it started in 1929, the Empire State Building began construction in 1930 and, after an incredible 13 months (just 410 days), was completed in 1931?

Sylvie is the daughter of a worker who died during construction and hates the building and the past. She is resentful and now she is in the Great Depression interacting with  former New York City Governor Alfred E. Smith (Paul Salvatoriello), former General Motors executive John J. Raskob (Howard Kaye), architect Charles Kinney (Albert Guerzon), and Frances Belle “Wally” Wolodsky (Kaitlyn Davidson) who is the person behind Smith and girlfriend of Kinney. Another of the confusion here is Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates were the architect not Charles Kinney.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

As we learn this story we meet the workers which are written so stereotypical. There is Irishman Ethan O’Dowd (J Savage), the racist Italian Mateo Menzo (Robbie Serrano), the Polish Joe Pakulski (Devon Cortez) a dreamer, as is his Mohawk wife, Rudy (also Kianna Labeary), who disguises herself as a man in order to work alongside him.

Dave Clemmons once told me we sing in musicals, because words are no longer enough. The problemm here is though the songs are pretty, there seems no reason to sing them. Sherman and Hull also did the score. Almost all of the songs sound the same and the lyrics don’t always work. They are well sung. especially by Kaitlyn Davidson, Paul Salvatoriello, Julia Louise Hosack and April Ortiz. What is done well is the harmony.

Lorna Ventura’s choreography tries to succeed and does for the most par,t but it seems like this is a poor man’s Newsies. There are even some riffs in the songs, that sound borrowed.

The cast has spirit and energy and gives performances that make you wish they had a better show or director. Cady Huffman seems lost considering she was given very little to work with.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Even scenic designer Walt Spangler seems lost with the odd set that has hidden treasure every where you look, but doesn’t fit the musical.

I do hope to see more of Ms. Davidson and the boy in the chorus Joel Douglas, both stand out and made the most of what they could of their respective roles.

Empire: The Musical: New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, until September 22nd.
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