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The New Federal Theatre in association with Castillo Theatre has produced the most captivating one man show I’ve ever seen. Freight: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green is a poetic and poignant theatrical experience.

We follow Abel Green (J. Alphonse Nicholson) through five lifetimes. Each time we meet Abel he is sitting in a train car in a different part of America, in a different decade. In each lifetime, Abel brings to light his present story, and with it he personifies deep questions that have complicated answers. For example, as an African American minstrel in the 1920s, he discusses how he is trying to make a living in show business, but other colored people of the time do not feel that way about his profession. It called to mind the controversy that surrounds actor Lincoln Perry, best known for playing Stepin Fetchit. Each incarnation deals with varying degrees of betraying fellow African Americans: a religious man turned miracle worker in order to make a profit in the 1930s, an FBI informant on the Black Panthers in the 1960s, an actor struggling with personal relationships during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, and a now-homeless former seller of subprime mortgages before the housing crisis in the early 2000s.

From one incarnation to the next Abel Green grapples with taking advantage of other black people and minorities, on a personal level or on a larger scale. In some cases Abel is taken advantage of by others.  In each case he is surrounded by the incarnations of others who play a similar role in each lifetime. He tells his story from a train car, symbolizing his journey in this life and the next one, and each time he is attempting to make his wrongs right.

J. Alphonse Nicholson in “FREIGHT: the five incarnations of Abel Green” by Howard L. Craft, directed by Joseph Megel, presented Off-Broadway by Woodie King Jr.’s New Federal Theatre, in association with Castillo Theatre, October 19 to November 19. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

Choosing tense historical moments with ambiguous moral and cultural effects, Howard L. Craft builds an incredible narrative with each poetic word. His writing is absolutely perfect. Every incarnation connects to or calls back to the previous one in subtle and powerful ways. Joseph Megel’s direction high lights every poetic moment using every theatrical element available to him. He has J. Alphonse Nicholson use as much of the space as possible and Nicholson has made the use of that space necessary to the telling the story.

J. Alphonse Nicholson is incredible. He shows us Abel Green’s story with his whole body and voice. While capturing the lingo and minute gestures common to each era, he creates and maintains the essence of Abel Green in each incarnation. Every character he quotes (as Abel Green) is so clear and different that I felt as though I were watching a full cast. Nicholson also sings, and has composed some original music for the show.

J. Alphonse Nicholson in “FREIGHT: the five incarnations of Abel Green” by Howard L. Craft, directed by Joseph Megel, presented Off-Broadway by Woodie King Jr.’s New Federal Theatre, in association with Castillo Theatre, October 19 to November 19. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

The elements of design are so cohesive – this is most evident during the transitions between incarnations. During each transition, projected images and sound (designed by Eamonn Farrell) laid out the climate of each era, while the train car and the character changeover. The train car setting designed by Chris Cumberbatch is simple and versatile; lighting by Antoinette Tynes added new and subtle qualities to each train car. I appreciate that we see Nicholson change shoes, clothes and props onstage, and Gail Cooper-Hecht’s costume design demonstrates clear differences in character and place in time.

Storytellers often string together events, feelings, moments and speech into stories that entertain or speak on a theme, yet it feels rare to me that stories are thematically crafted in such a way that stirs spirit and shifts consciousness. Freight: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green is one such story.

Freight: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green; New Federal Theatre with Castillo Theater, 543 w. 42nd Street, New York. General Admission, $40.  Closes November 19th.

Tickets at http://www.castillo.org/freight-2017/

Virginia Jimenez is a writer, dancer and teaching artist in New York City. She teaches for various companies focusing on dancing for musical theatre, ballroom dancing, theatrical skills and story building. Bringing arts education to students in NYC is incredibly rewarding for her because she is passionate about arts integration and using the arts to facilitate an emotional education. As a writer, Virginia believes in the power of words and stories to challenge and encourage audiences to seek growth and modes of expression. She likes tequila and ice cream - though not necessarily together. www.vmjimenez.com

Cabaret

My View: Lucie Arnaz…..How Did She Get This Job?

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With apologies to politicians who tout their job creating policies, Lucie Arnaz did not need any assistance to get her current job at 54 Below with a show titled “I Got The Job”.  Lucie got this gig because she is a supremely talented actor/singer/dancer who possesses a distinguished resume and long career of memorable performances on the stages of Broadway, Cabaret, and Concert Halls all over the world… and as I’ve said before about this show….

Lucie Arnaz hit the stage of 54Below with all cylinders on burn and guns ablaze! She performed an evening she calls “I GOT THE JOB” and kept the New York City audience entranced from beginning to end, garnering multiple ovations that seemed as natural as breathing.

For 85 minutes, she owned the stage, dressed to work, in black tights with tuxedo rhinestone striping and a dazzling orange silk blouse with glimmering buttons and cuffs. Basic, simple, perfect. This woman comes with all the equipment to perform, entertain and break your heart. She’s a master storyteller with impeccable timing and the voice shows up for her song after song, from show after show, exhibiting range and colors and nuancing that engage the audience at every turn. The star, of course, is the daughter of showbiz royalty, but she doesn’t rely on that one bit and has her own stories to tell, and they are mesmerizing.

Lucie Arnaz has had an extraordinary life and career and judging by what was on display, last night, I imagine, as Cy Coleman & Carolyn Leigh wrote, “The Best Is Yet To Come.” Lucie wrote and directed herself in this show, which opened the Birdland Theater years ago, but it has been fully fleshed out and brought to vivid life. Sharing the stage with her is what appears to be a musical soulmate in her Musical Director, Arranger and “Acting Partner,” Ron Abel, whose hands gave Ms. Arnaz her orchestra.

During the evening we were treated to a story of her audition (in a theatre) for THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG. During the audition, Neil Simon walked onto the stage and told her she was a breath of fresh air. She later “got the job.” Last night, she also stole our hearts and, now, we’re helpless and LOVE LUCIE.

LUCIE ARNAZ

LUCIE ARNAZ

RON ABEL

54 BELOW

LUCIE ARNAZ

RON ABEL & LUCIE ARNAZ

54 BELOW

MACRON PRICKETT

54 BELOW

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Cabaret

My View: An Evening With Rex Reed, Will Friedwald, & POLLY BERGEN

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Will Friedwald’s Clip Joint presented the legendary film critic and personality “Rex Reed Remembers Polly Bergen” last night at the TRIAD Theater.  It was a fascinating evening as Rex, who was one of Polly Bergen’s closest friends told fly on the wall show biz stories and personal anecdotes about her remarkable life.  An especially hilarious one occurred at the annual OSCAR NIGHT party that Polly had every year in her New York apartment.  There was Rex, watching the Oscars on a TV in Polly’s bedroom, Lucille Ball on one side of him and Paul Newman on the other .  Milton Berle who had been in another room parades past them wearing one of Polly’s gowns that he snatched from her closet!

Will and Rex reminisced about her amazing career in the movies ( including three classic comedies with Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis) but even more so on television.  In fact, her career spans the very history of the small screen medium, starting with appearances on pioneering broadcasts of the late 1940’s right up to a memorable regular role in the hit series DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES-although she was probably best known for starring in the legendary 1957 PLAYHOUSE 90 live television biography of HELEN MORGAN.  In other guises, she was an entrepreneur and political activist. 

Will Friedwald brought along his extensive library of film clips of her appearances on The Hollywood Palace, The Andy Williams Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Perry Como Kraft Music Hall, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show and appearances with Phil Silvers, George Burns, Red Skelton, Andy Williams and many more. Polly Bergen (1930-2014) had three husbands, and unfortunately became a Doris Day type financial victim because of her last one. And now “here’s the rest of my personal Polly Bergen story”.

Many years ago a firm placed a large order with my factory.  When I checked with our credit insuring agency they advised me that the company did not have enough finances to purchase that amount of goods and consequently the agency would only insure half the order.  Not wanting to reject a sizable order I made an appointment to meet the owner in his garment center office and check out his business for myself.  During the course of the conversation somehow the entertainment business came up (of course it did) and he mentioned that he was married to Polly Bergen.  Being a fan and and having reverence for the famous and talented artists in this world I dropped my usual due diligence guard and the hour was spent talking about show business, I loved it, especially when he invited me over to their apartment to watch the Super Bowl.   Well, I shipped all the merchandise…and you can guess what happened….Years later I met Polly Bergen at one of Rex Reed’s evenings and introduced myself with the opening line “ you cost me a lot of money” and then related the story of how her husband never paid.   Polly put her arm around me and said in her bawdy way, “ honey, you’re lucky it was only that much, he bankrupted me”.

WILL FRIEDWALD

REX REED & WILL FRIEDWALD

POLLY BERGEN

REX REED

POLLY BERGEN & DEAN MARTIN

PERRY COMO & POLLY BERGEN

REX REED & WILL FRIEDWALD

ANDY WILLIAMS & POLLY BERGEN

POLLY BERGEN & SANDLER & YOUNG

REX REED & POLLY BERGEN

REX REED & EDA SOROKOFF

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Cabaret

My View: Happily Ever Laughter at 54 Below……Liz Callaway & Jason Graae

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At first glance they might seem like a musical and personality mismatch, but the chemistry between Liz Callaway and Jason Graae is far from problematic.  It is an enormously entertaining integration of these two artists musicianship, acting, and comedic expertise. Liz Callaway’s once in a lifetime voice and vocal dexterity doesn’t just sing in tune.  It lands in the middle of the middle of a note with a clarity that pierces your soul.  Jason, once he gets his oboe in tune (that’s a double entenndre) also possesses excellent vocal technique, and my camera, no matter how many photos I snap is incapable of capturing his enormously expressive facial movements that glide between comical and the heartfelt with such ease. His rendition of William Finn’s “What More Can I Say” brought tears.  The duets from “BABY” for which Ms Callaway was nominated for a Tony and her two songs from the animated film Anastasia (in which she starred) were highlights.  This evening’s friendship (they’ve been for forty years) was the perfect blendship, together with the masterful Alex Rybeck on the piano at 54 Below last night. The show was very appropriately titled “Happily Ever Laughter” and it has two more performances, July 5 & 6.

Speaking of friendship and blendship, my table of KT Sullivan, Eda, and Debbie Gravitte was pretty special too.

JASON GRAAE & LIZ CALLAWAY

LIZ CALLAWAY & JASON GRAAE

LIZ CALLAWAY & JASON GRAAE

LIZ CALLAWAY & JASON GRAAE

JASON GRAAE

JASON GRAAE

JASON GRAAE & LIZ CALLAWAY

JASON GRAAE & LIZ CALLAWAY

LIZ CALLAWAY

JASON GRAAE & LIZ CALLAWAY

54 BELOW

LIZ CALLAWAY & JASON GRAAE

ALEX RYBECK, LIZ CALLAWAY, JASON GRAAE

54 BELOW

JASON GRAAE & RICHARD SKIPPER

KT SULLIVAN, DEBBIE GRAVITTE, EDA SOROKOFF

HAPPILY EVER LAUGHTER

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Cabaret

My View: Jamie deRoy & Her Friends….Who’s Like Them….Damm few

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There wasn’t a sign on the door that said “ Private Party…you have to know Jamie deRoy to get in”, but it seemed that way last night as all the tables in Birdland were filled with Jamie’s friends. They came for another edition of her long running (34 years) variety show.  Jamie as usual hosted the evening and presented a talented line up of performer friends which included: Jason Graae, Jason Henderson, Cory Kahaney, MOIPEI, A.J. Shively, and Jim Vallance & Catherine Porter. The evening, which benefited the Entertainment Community Fund, was directed by Barry Kleinbort with musical direction by Ron Abel.

A show tends to be well received when an audience is mainly comprised of friends. However, even an audience of strangers would have become Jamie’s friends after watching this outstanding cast creating a highly enjoyable evening of music and humor.  As the song says.. “ya’ got to have friends”, and to answer the question asked by the many friends who couldn’t snag a ticket…yes, Jamie sang “Jews Don’t Camp”.

Check out the show photos and the Cast Party

JAMIE deROY

A.J.SHIVELY

JASON HENDERSON

CORY KAHANEY

CATHERINE PORTER & JIM VALLANCE

CATHERINE PORTER

JASON GRAAE

JASON GRAAE

JASON GRAAE

RON ABEL, music director

RON ABEL

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Cabaret

My View: If She Were On The Debate Stage Tonight…Age Would Not Be An Issue

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It’s not my photography skills, nor the lighting, camera, or lens that make these photos taken last night of Christine Andreas appear to be similar to the ones I shot 10 years ago.  Madame Andreas ( who speaks lots of French during her show at 54 Below) has found the secret of ageless, timeless beauty.  You can also say the same about her glorious voice and shimmering vibrato which she so effectively joined with her energetic acting and verbal skills to sing the timeless songs of Paris and Broadway.  Her Cabaret show Paris to Broadway is a gem and husband/music director Martin Silvestri is a superb composer/arranger/pianist/ and accordionist, who helped create the musical authenticity for her show stopping set list. 

One thing for sure, if Christine Andreas was on that debate stage tonight, age would not be an issue.

CHRISTINE ANDREAS

CHRSTINE ANDREAS

CHRISTINE ANDREAS

MARTIN SILVESTRI & CHRISTINE ANDREAS

MARTIN SILVESTRI

CHRSTINE ANDREAS

MARTIN SILVESTRI & CHRISTINE ANDREAS

CHRISTINE ANDREAS

CHRISTINE ANDREAS

STANDING OVATION

54 BELOW

LORNA DALLAS BROWN & LEE ROY REAMS

EDA SOROKOFF & CHRISTINE ANDREAS

EDA SOROKOFF, CHRISTINE ANDREAS, STEPHEN SOROKOFF

MARIA VON NICOLAI

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