Charles Bernard Murray as Scrooge, Eryn Barnes as The Ghost of Christmas Past Photo by Jill Jones
For the second consecutive season, The Classical Theatre of Harlem, under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Ty Jones, is presenting its delightful original holiday show, A Christmas Carol in Harlem.
This contemporary adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic by Shawn René Graham, with songs by Kahlil X Daniel (also the musical director) seems particularly relevant and timely, because it is being presented in the actual heart of Harlem, at the City College Center for the Arts’ Aaron Davis Hall at 135th and Convent.
In an age of greedy landlords, skyrocketing rents, and gentrification, nothing could be more appropriate than making Ebenezer Scrooge a selfish, stingy, real estate developer who has enriched himself at the expense of his community. When this Scrooge (Charles Bernard Murray) suggests, as Dickens’ original character does, that letting poor people die of hunger or from lack of shelter would be a good way to “reduce the surplus population,” it remains a sorry sentiment which hasn’t changed in a hundred and fifty years.
This version still has all the major characters, and hits all the main emotional beats of the Dickens classic. But in a smart modern addition, Scrooge is challenged by a community organizer, Sierra Jones, played with dignity and fire by Ure Egbuho, who pleads with Scrooge to use his properties to support affordable housing and community facilities for the neighborhood.
Charles Bernard Murray plays Scrooge with a scrappy energy and a sitcom sensibility. It’s always a good question how and when to let Scrooge seem funny, which Murray, and this adaptation, try to do a lot. The dark moodiness which sets the scene for the magical events of that night never quite got created for me. I felt that especially when Scrooge cracked wise with the Ghost of Christmas Past, of whom he should have been terrified.
Scrooge’s nephew, Bob Cratchit, played with warmth and charm by Jeffrey Rashad, still slaves away in Scrooge’s real estate business, with a cheerful tolerance of his uncle’s meanness. Cratchit’s crutch-bound child is now a young girl, Tiny Timothea (sweet but bland Emery Jones), who is still wasting away from a disease that only Scrooge’s money can cure. In another modern twist, Mrs. Cratchet, played with compelling earnestness by Kenzie Ross, offers to get a job to help pay their crippling medical bills. It might have been a stronger choice to let this be a two income family already, who still can’t make ends meet. That’s modern New York City!
As in the original story, Scrooge is taught the error of his ways by visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, as well as the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley. All these roles were extremely well cast and well performed.
Steve Greenstein, with his booming voice and woeful countenance, really rattled the room as the miserable ghost of Jacob Marley. Beautiful actress, dancer and gymnast, Eryn Barnes, was truly magical as the Ghost of Christmas Past, looking like Pam Grier in a 70’s action movie, and effortlessly popping off backwards walkovers like they were nothing. Andrei Pierre was all glammed up in metallic gold and ready to party as the Ghost of Christmas Present. But he also showed fine dramatic chops when he turned that party into a nightmare for Scrooge. Kahlil X Daniel, who is also the show’s musical director and composer, was a voiceless and faceless terror as the Ghost of Christmas Future.
In the dual role of Ebenezer’s sister, Fan, and Belle, the girl he loved and lost through his short sightedness, Gabrielle Djenné got the best written dramatic scene in the show with Young Ebenezer, and acted it with powerful honesty. She also beautifully sang the only really personal song in the show, called “Do You Remember”. Her outstanding performance gave much needed emotional and dramatic weight to the production.
Two talented young boys, Reed Harris Butts and Kaden Jones, who played Youngest Ebenezer and his friends, had a show stopping, Christmas-themed rap duet called “Wishlist,” which was another highlight of the evening.
Finally, Paula Galloway was a very funny, Carribean inflected shopkeeper, who also gleefully picked over the remains of Scrooge’s estate in the vision of Christmas Future.
The engaging songs, all composed by Mr. Daniel, let the company do some fine ensemble singing. There was also a lot enthusiastic dancing by Kat Files, Sai Rodboon, Tracy Dunbar and Ashley Larosa, well choreographed by Tiffany Rea-Fisher.
But this show does not seem to know if it wants to be a play with music surrounding the characters, or a musical in which the songs reveal the characters. Certainly, it was at its most compelling as the latter, when Ms. Djenné sang her big ballad. But it seemed odd that a minor character should have such a personally revealing song, and Scrooge got to sing nothing about what he was going through.
Director Carl Cofield kept everything moving at a snappy pace. But he also made some disappointing choices. There was a moment in which Scrooge supposedly saw impoverished and miserable people on the street, who were then represented by the dancers in energetic movement which suggested anything but that. I’d have been more convinced, and moved, if they had just shuffled across the stage wearing tattered clothing. In fact, overall, I would have liked to see more of the real signs of homelessness and poverty be a part of this production concept.
There’s also a pivotal early scene about Scrooge’s alarm clock, which he can’t get to work at the store, which gets a lot of stage time. As there is no chiming grandfather’s clock in this production, I wanted to hear its alarm go off unexpectedly to announce the arrival of a ghost, or to wake Scrooge on Christmas morning. But the clock does absolutely nothing, and the set up never gets paid off by the director.
The costumes of Margaret Goldrainer, especially for the ghosts, are clever and evocative. The minimal but effective set by Izmir Ikbal is a streetscape of miniature buildings made from moveable blocks with little windows, augmented by simple projected backgrounds by Maxwell Bowman. Those projections are used at one point to present an interesting visual history of Harlem culture. But they don’t add enough scenic detail during the main action of the show. Overall, the lighting by Alan C. Edwards seems stark and simply functional.
So, even though this new production has dialogue which is sketchy at times, music and story which don’t fully integrate, and the overall feeling more of an individual talent showcase than a well knit production, the stage full of diverse and appealing performers make sure that everyone in the audience has a wonderful holiday time, regardless.
It’s worth the trip uptown to experience A Christmas Carol in Harlem in genuine New York Style. Also, I hope the local residents come out to support this fine arts institution to which Mr. Jones has dedicated ten years, pro bono, in order to bring quality theater to his community.
So don’t be too Scrooge-like to buy a ticket before this show closes on December 21.
Opening Night of Golden Rainbow
Last night the York Theatre Company presented their production of Golden Rainbow, with book by Ernest Kinoy and music and lyrics by Walter Marks, the third offering of the Fall 2023 “Musicals in Mufti” series. Performances continue through Sunday, October 1, 2023.
The show stars Max Von Essen (York’s Tenderloin)
Benjamin Pajak (Broadway’s The Music Man)
Mara Davi (Broadway’s Dames at Sea)
Robert Cuccioli (York’s Rothschild & Sons)
Danielle Lee Greaves (Broadway’s Parade)
Felipe Barbosa Bombonato (Les Misérables)
Jonathan Brody (The Sorceress)
Nick Cearley (The Skivvies),
Jillian Louis (York’s The Game of Love),
Gina Milo (York’s Subways Are for Sleeping)
and Maria Wirries (York’s Penelope: or How The Odyssey Was Really Written).
Golden Rainbow is directed by Stuart Ross (York’s Enter Laughing), with music direction by David Hancock Turner (York’s Cheek to Cheek and Desperate Measures). The production team includes Lighting Designer Garett Pembrook, Projections/Sound Designer Peter Brucker, Production Manager Aaron Simms, Production Coordinator Noah Glaister, Production Stage Manager Hailey Delaney, Assistant Stage Manager Carson Ferguson, and Company Manager Tori Calderon-Caswell.
By Jacqueline Parker
Nature’s reward for enduring a spate of rain and gloomy weather is a rainbow. The York has delivered just that in their latest production in their Mufti series, Golden Rainbow. This musical from the late 60s is always mentioned among aficionados of this art form with wistful smiles and fond remembrances. The York has brought it back to life in a version that features some new lyrics by original composer/lyricist Walter Marks that carry the storyline into this century.
From the opening notes of the Jule Styne-esque overture to the rousing finale, the audience was toe-and-finger tapping along to the sounds so evocative of the time when most of us were very young. The story itself is touching—a single father of a boy on the brink of teenhood must wrestle with the choice of saving his livelihood or letting his son move to the other side of the country with his aunt. The connection between father and son is made clear through several songs delivered touchingly by dad Max Von Essen and son Benjamin Pajak.
The arrival under a false pretense of Mara Davi as Aunt Judy sets the plot spinning and allows Robert Cuccioli as mobster Carmine Malatesta and Danielle Lee Greaves as Jill to play their part in the resolution with songs hilarious and touching.
If the story seems familiar it’s because it is taken from the film “A Hole in the Head,” based on the same source material, that starred Frank Sinatra and Eddie Hodges singing the Oscar-winning song High Hopes. Golden Rainbow opened in 1968 starring Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme in the leads. They were household names at the time, based on their talent and popularity from television appearances and cabaret performances.
Perhaps most impressive in this production was Von Essen’s version of the hit song “I Gotta Be Me.” It was haunting as it built in intensity and left the audience almost breathless at the end of Act 1.
Pajak, familiar to all from his recent appearances in Oliver! and The Music Man was astounding in his ability to project the at times heartbreaking and lovingly joyous emotions of his character.
Mara Davi’s character has her own roller coaster ride of emotions, which she transmits with style and conviction.
Robert Cuccioli was hilarious as a mobster singing Taste,
and Danielle Lee Greaves delivered two of the new songs, making me hope for a new recording of this terrific show soon.
The clock is ticking on this gem of a show – it closes Sunday, October 1st. Get your tickets at yorktheatre.org and find your own pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.
Theatre News: Here We Are, Some Like It Hot, A Beautiful Noise, All The Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented The Villain and The Laramie Project
The curtain rose last tonight on the first performance of the final Stephen Sondheim musical. Here We Are, the new musical from David Ives and Sondheim, is on stage at The Shed’s Griffin Theater (545 W. 30th Street), with an Opening Night on Sunday, October 22, for 15 weeks only.
Directed by two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello, the cast of Here We Are will feature Francois Battiste, Tracie Bennett, Bobby Cannavale, Micaela Diamond, Amber Gray, Jin Ha, Rachel Bay Jones, Denis O’Hare, Steven Pasquale, David Hyde Pierce, and Jeremy Shamos. The understudies for Here We Are are Adante Carter, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Bradley Dean, Mehry Eslaminia, Adam Harrington, and Bligh Voth.
Here We Are is inspired by two films, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Exterminating Angel, by Luis Buñuel.
Here We Are will include choreography by Sam Pinkleton, set design and costume design by David Zinn, lighting design by Natasha Katz, sound design by Tom Gibbons, orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, musical supervision and additional arrangements by Alexander Gemignani, hair & make-up design by Wigmaker Associates, and casting by The Telsey Office.
Tickets are on sale on TheShed.org.
For each performance, a limited number of $25 tickets will be available via a weekly lottery, which will open for entries on the TodayTix app each Sunday at 12:01 AM for the coming week’s performances and will close at 12:00 PM on the day before each performance. Winners will be notified by push notification and email between 1 – 4 PM on the day before their selected show, and will have 30 minutes to claim their tickets in the app. Entrants may request 1 or 2 tickets, and entry is free and open to all.
Via TodayTix’s mobile rush program, a limited number of $40 same-day rush tickets will be available for that day’s performance of Here We Are at 9:00 AM each day on a first-come, first-served basis. Users can download the app and “unlock” rush tickets by sharing the program on social media ahead of their desired performance day.
The most award-winning musical of the 2022-2023 season, Some Like It Hot, will play for 13 more weeks through Saturday, December 30, 2023, at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre (225 West 44th Street) before launching a national tour and West End production.
Awarded Best Musical by The Drama League, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle, Some Like It Hot received over 20+ major awards throughout the 2022-2023 season, including four Tony Awards for Best Lead Actor in a Musical (J. Harrison Ghee), Best Choreography (Casey Nicholaw), Best Orchestrations (Charlie Rosen & Bryan Carter) and Best Costumes in a Musical (Gregg Barnes). J. Harrison Ghee made history as the first non-binary performer to take home the Tony Award in their category.
A national tour will launch in September 2024 and a West End production will follow in 2025, produced by The Shubert Organization and Neil Meron in partnership with Ambassador Theatre Group.
At the time of the final performance, the production will have played the Shubert Theatre for over a year, for a total of 483 performances.
Will Swenson, who is electrifying audiences with his star turn in A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical, will play his final performance as ‘Neil Diamond – Then’ at the Broadhurst Theatre (235 West 44th Street) on Sunday, October 29. Casting for the role of ‘Neil Diamond – Then’ will be announced at a future date.
The unofficial commencement of “spooky season” takes place this Friday, September 29, when Tony Award® Nominee and Grammy Award® Winner Patrick Page returns to the New York stage in All The Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented The Villain, a new work created and performed by Mr. Page, based on the villains of William Shakespeare. Directed by Simon Godwin, the solo show will play the DR2 Theatre (103 E 15th Street) beginning Friday, September 29, with an Opening Night set for Monday, October 16, for 14 weeks only.
Julie White and Brandon Uranowitz will join Ato Blankson-Wood in a staged benefit reading of The Laramie Project. Moises Kaufman and the Members of Tectonic Theatre Project’s The Laramie Project, will bedirected by Dustin Wills (Wolf Play, Wet Brain). The event, which will raise funds to support the work of The Trevor Project, will take place on Monday, October 16th at 7:00 PM at Peter Norton Symphony Space, and is being produced by District Productions. Additional casting is soon to be announced. For tickets and more information, visit https://www.symphonyspace.org/events/vp-the-laramie-project-a-benefit-staged-reading
Meet Michel Wallerstein and Spencer Aste of Chasing Happy
Pulse Theatre will be presenting Chasing Happy a new comedy by Michel Wallerstein (Flight, Five Women Waiting, Off Hand). Directed by Pulse Theatre co-Founder Alexa Kelly (Strings Attached).
Video by Magda Katz
The company of Chasing Happy features Spencer Aste (Wake Up, Axis Theatre), Jenny Bennett (City of Ladies, Pulse Theatre), Schyler Conaway in his Off-Broadway debut, Christopher James Murray (The Falling Season, Theatre Row), and Elizabeth Shepherd (Relatively Speaking and Conduct Unbecoming on Broadway; War and Peace and Inherit the Wind in London’s West End).
T2C talked to Michel Wallerstein and Spencer Aste to learn more.
Chasing Happy is a modern comedy about personal identity, love, acceptance …and the elusive pursuit of happiness. Nick is in love with another man’s boyfriend. (Oops.) Nick’s mother says George Clooney wants to date her (Really?). Nick’s ex-wife says she has to have surgery.( Now?) …It’s a laugh a minute on an unexpected merry-go-round when you’re chasing happy.
The limited engagement will play a five-week limited engagement, October 11 through November 11, at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street, NYC). Opening night is Thursday, October 19 at 7PM. Tickets are now on sale at TheatreRow.org or by calling the box office, 212-714-2442 ext. 45.
For more information visit www.ChasingHappyOffBroadway.com.
Primary Stages’ “DIG” Does Exactly That Into What’s Underground
By Dennis White
The theater is filled with eerie almost tribal music with birds chirping as the audience finds their seats for Primary Stages’ production of DIG at 59E59 Theaters. It’s a new play written by Theresa Rebeck (Bernhardt/Hamlet) who also directs and as the name implies, DIG is not going to let us just see what’s on the surface. This story wants us to DIG to find out what we don’t see going on underground. The play’s setting is a garden shop that we’re told is failing but is filled with what looks like thriving plants.
Roger, the owner, played with elegant restraint by Jeffery Bean (Broadway’s Amadeus, Bells Are Ringing) seems content with keeping his shop even though developers are buying up the neighborhood. But Roger is unaware of how his complacent life is going to change thanks to his longtime friend Lou played by Triney Sandoval (Broadway’s Bernhardt/Hamlet), a man who reluctantly has his tormented daughter Megan come live with him. Megan deftly played by Andrea Syglowski (Broadway’s Pass Over) is a woman lost but even though it seems futile, she has not given up – completely. Entering the shop Megan takes a seat in the corner facing the wall attempting to camouflage herself in greenery covering her face with a hoodie.
She has committed an unforgivable act that has made national headlines. After a failed suicide her father agrees to supervise his daughter’s release even though he cannot forgive her. Megan reaches through her pain and within minutes she offers to repot a plant hoping to convince Roger he needs her help and she’ll work for free. You can feel how Syglowski’s Megan feels caught like the plant’s bound roots pushing against the sides of the pot, trapped and in pain. But she sees hope in the garden shop and Roger. The relationship between Roger and Megan is tenuous at first but the actors reel in the audience. The garden shop is coming alive as a place where they can both grow but it’s not as easy as they find out.
The rest of the cast is vital as they build the grotesque puzzle pieces of Megan’s horrifying past with pros like Mary Bacon (Public’s Coal Country) as Molly. Bacon does a good job as the judgmental nosy customer who turns into a helping hand. Stoner Everett aptly played in what can be described as a life lived in a pot cloud haze by Greg Keller (Playwrights Horizons’ The Thanksgiving Play) seems like a comical diversion but there’s a darker side coming. A surprising element is the appearance of Adam, Megan’s ex-husband, played with the intensity of a caged animal by David Mason (Broadway’s Pictures from Home) who makes the most of this small part. You can feel the audience cringing through the entire scene as writer/ director Theresa Rebeck finally gets her chance to see her play fully realized as she saw it in her mind, line by line.
DIG takes us to places we could not imagine when we first meet the characters. She builds relationships, tears them down, and then gives them some hope by the end. The play’s surprising revelation leaves the audience stunned, gasping at the turn of events and the secrets revealed. Rebeck’s direction seems effortless, moving her actors in the garden shop through this story of realization, forgiveness, and redemption. The scenic design by Christopher and Justin Swader (Off-Broadway’s The Boy Who Danced On Air) fill the garden shop with life, growing and changing reflecting the events of the play. Lighting by Mary Ellen Stebbins (MCC’s Space Dogs) helps set the mood with deep shadows and the original music and sound design by Fitz Patton (Broadway’s Choir Boy) give us an ominous melody to add to the tension, giving DIG a chance to get a lot of it right. The cast led by Syglowski and Bean hit all the right notes as they travel through tormented waters, some raging, while others swirl below the surface. Rebeck’s play with its unexpected twists and turns wrenches our guts and we follow gladly to the end.
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