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How To Defend Yourself Punches Strong at NYTW

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Sex that is a surprise, and sex that is an assault. That is the key, and one of the many fascinating paradoxes built in and intertwined within one well-crafted interaction. It gives forth a wealth of complex formulations by playwright Liliana Padilla (TWITCH) that jab punches provocatively in the brilliantly captivating new play, How To Defend Yourself now playing at the New York Theatre Workshop. The writing keeps revolving out nuggets of nuanced reactions slowly but surely, as we meet and engage with a bunch of college students trying to comprehend the terribly upsetting slice of violence that just happened very close to them all. This isn’t one of those moments of reactions that come with a certain distance between, but something that each one of these characters is one handshake or smile away from a savage frathouse rape that landed one sorority girl in the hospital and two men in jail, and even though we never actually meet the three students involved with the rape and assault, each one of Padilla’s characters knows all that are involved. The classroom where we find ourselves reverberates with the friction and the intensity of all that fury in all corners as these women (and two men) come together to try to navigate their response and their physical safety, while also trying to make personal choices about their bodies and souls that weave themselves in and out.

Ariana Mahallati, Sarah Marie Rodriguez, Talia Ryder, Gabriela Ortega, and Amaya Braganza in NYTW’s How To Defend Yourself. Photo by Joan Marcus

Co-directed with intensity under a hoodie cloak of casualness by the team of Rachel Chavkin (Broadway’s Hadestown), the playwright Padilla, and Steph Paul (LCT’s Becky Nurse of Salem), the engagement begins with two young women trying to understand where they are in their worlds, and how to move forward. The “fiction of safety” is what is being unpacked in their intimate interaction, navigating social acceptance and sexual attraction, within the constructs of the same sorority as this unseen student who was assaulted. Personal attraction and sexual liberation find a quiet sense of space and union with the two, played beautifully by Gabriela Ortega (B Street’s Dance Nation), and Ariana Mahallati (Pixar’s “Win or Lose“), as the duo named Diana and Mojdeh. Diana’s dynamic bravado and Nikki’s complex insecurity shift and float out in a way that is linked to the meticulous language they are given by the playwright. It resonates, both emotionally, and authentically, leading them to an earthy place to shed their baggage, while also connecting in a way that is both funny and endearing.

Gabriela Ortega and Ariana Mahallati in NYTW’s How To Defend Yourself. Photo by Joan Marcus

He had a fuckin’ gun,” is the warrior focus for these women as they try to comprehend what went down not too long ago, and it still scratches at their sense of safety and security. It feels so intimate and meaningful, until the energy shifts as two sorority sisters enter exuding an almost comical level of confidence and clarity. They are here to teach defense, they proclaim, with Brandi, played meticulously by Talia Ryder (Broadway’s Matilda), taking the strong lead in the lessons, and Kara, played with a different kind of confidence bordering on nonchalance by Sarah Marie Rodriguez (Netflix’s “Manifest“), standing by her side to assist. The alliance feels solid, until it isn’t, which doesn’t surprise as it is wrapped up in a sorority-bound friendship that has a few other obstacles just waiting to be unwrapped and thrown down.

But the piece doesn’t really find its legs until the astounding Amaya Braganza (Broadway’s Annie), as the awkward frightened Nikki, comes shuffling into the room filled with need and anxiety. She reverberates everything that someone might feel after what just happened, as well as anyone who feels at odds with the world they are trying to exist in. She takes her place, tentatively, wondering if she can put her faith in these women, before two over-emphasizing frat guys, perfectly embodied by Sebastian Delascasas (“Last Straw“) and Jayson Lee (First Floor’s Hooded), come into the room. They say that they are here to also learn, but is it something more complex? They know, in a way, especially Delascasas’s character that they are the embodiment of what is to be feared, but they also want to believe they are participating in the solution, and to help us all feel the point a bit deeper.

 The company of NYTW’s How to Defend Yourself. Photo by Joan Marcus

The dialogue effortlessly and brilliantly spins out, over days and moments of connection in a classroom designed with realistic precision by You-Shin Chen (MCC/Soho Rep’s Wolf Play), with perfectly detailed costuming by Izurni Inaba (Indiana Rep’s Clue), exact lighting by Stacey Derosier (ATC’s Cornelia Street), and a clear, attuned sound design by Mikhail Fiksel (Broadway’s Dana H.), especially when the walls come tumbling down. The language resonates and drives the piece forward through all the twists and turns of this fascinating set-up. To learn how to fight back, and to find some sense of understanding about their own safety in this complicated framework is where the goal-stated lives, but it is in the characters’ engagement with one another around who they appear to be and who they really are where the play really taps into its potential.

Progressive warriors and defenders; this is where they are all trying to position themselves, unpacking problematic ideals around fully formulated new values and concepts. The two young men try, with all their might to showcase care and alignment with the women, without ever slipping too far out of reality. We don’t quite know what to think of Delascasas’s jock dude who says things like, “We do not get down with that rape s—. Full stop” while also reacting like a full-on frat guy oblivious of being a part of another frat party so soon after the assault. Lee’s Eggo gives us another window to look through, as he, most authentically, is confused and unnerved by the positions taken by the women he has dated. “What’s the difference between sex that is a surprise, and assault? Cus I don’t want to be the surprise that winds up in jail,” he most brilliantly questions.

Consent is unpacked with good intentions, but these seven college kids don’t seem to know how to navigate it in the real world, where even warrior Diana doesn’t really know what ‘yes’ and ‘no’ really fully stand for in her own rational sexual mind, let alone in the situational world she is trying so hard to dive into and survive. The scenes play out strong, with undercurrents cutting the unity apart. How To Defend Yourself boldly digs in, punching forth ideas of conflictual engagement, attraction, and self-preservation, while offering up not clear concise conclusions. The ending feels a bit haphazard and without weight, not exactly the knockdown punch I was hoping for, but overall, the play and the performances find some solidarity in their strong voices. Even if the world at large is failing to listen all that much to what they are trying to say. So make sure your “No” is as loud and forceful as Padilla’s, cause maybe then they will be heard and things might find a way to change.

Sarah Marie Rodriguez, Jayson Lee, Amaya Braganza, Sebastian Delascasas and Gabriela Ortega in NYTW’s How To Defend Yourself. Photo by Joan Marcus

The wonderful network of community partners for How To Defend Yourself includes: Speak About ItThe Center for Anti-Violence EducationBreaking the Binary TheatreCrime Victims Treatment Center, and The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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 last...so 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 frontmezzjunkies.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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