Connect with us
Over this past weekend, I felt somewhat hit over the head with the squabbles that are most likely taking place across this country within our organizations and politics inside and out.  It is clear that there is a lot going wrong within our systems, all we have to do is look towards Washington D.C. to see dysfunction and self-interest on full display.  So much so that even the people we feel aligned with can cause eruptions of discourse within our shared beliefs. For example, when I hear fellow Democrats do their version of ‘monday quarterbacking’ saying ridiculous things about how it was Hillary’s responses and therefore her ‘fault’ that caused her to ‘lose’ the campaign against the #OrangeMonster, I get so freaked out.  Such a simple thing to say, lay blame, feigning superiority, and walking away with a shrug. That’s far too simple of an argument as if they knew something about an election that no one can still to this day fully figure out. It’s very likely that thousands of scholarly articles will forever attempt to understand the complicated explanation that played a role, from Russian influence, collusion, gerrymandering, and full-out blind hatred, racism, white supremacy, xenophobia, homophobia, and so many others, that this list could be endless.
KINGSWritten by Sarah Burgess Directed by Thomas Kail Featuring Aya Cash, Eisa Davis, Zach Grenier, and Gillian Jacobs
The Public Theater’s Kings. Gillian Jacobs, Aya Cash, Zach Grenier. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Much of that feeling is on display within Sarah Burgess’s Kings, The Public Theater‘s new play from the stellar playwright who brought us the much stronger and more intellectually dense Dry Powder last season. This current offering of this ‘in the know‘ play revolves around the game of money in politics; the sort of cash that lobbyists use as bait for politicians to get behind or go against legislation that would affect their clientele. And if worded correctly to the press and public in sound bites, would appear to align with the politician’s platform, while inconspicuously helping their reelection coffers grow. In Dry Powder, Burgess dug her way into the large and complex world of private equity, and the morality, or lack there of, that is bought and sold.
KINGSWritten by Sarah Burgess Directed by Thomas Kail Featuring Aya Cash, Eisa Davis, Zach Grenier, and Gillian Jacobs
The Public Theater’s Kings. Gillian Jacobs, Eisa Davis. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Much of the same type of questioning lies at the heart of Kings, when a morally solid new member of Congress arrives in Washington, fresh and ready to do battle. She tries valiantly to not bend to the lure of campaign donations, and stand up for sensible and logical thinking based on her strong belief core.  She states, most confidently that she will accept their donations to her reelection campaign but will not be told how to vote or think about any legislation set before her. This is the defiant stance of Representative Sydney Millsap, played with a distinct and smart confidence in self by Eisa Davis (Public’s Julius Caesar) said with a wicked grin and a purposeful smile. She’s a gold-star widow, quickly elected into office in a special election, and “the first woman and the first person of color ever to represent your district”, as she is told numerous times. She sees no other option but to brave the swamp and do combat with these aggressive lobbyists and her fellow pushy politicians in appropriate sterile lounges that look like they belong in an airport (a dull and static scenic design by Anna Louizos, smart costumes by Paul Tazewell, simplistic lighting by Jason Lyones). She states that she will always attempt to serve her constituents to the best of her whip-smart ability. She’s by far the best thing and the most likable character in this wordy jargon-filled exploration of a system that is rigged against someone like her. We feel the need to get behind her and support her, although we also don’t see how this can turn out well in the end.  The cards are too stacked against her from decades of this kind of action. To have her win, would feel like Kings is just another feel-good outlandish fairy tale, but to have her lose, would also be a too depressing and simplistic tale about what happens to high ideals and morality when money is involved with politics. It feels like a no-win for anyone involved, because that last option is one that I don’t thing I need to hear at this point in our collective history, and the first wouldn’t feel honest.
KINGSWritten by Sarah Burgess Directed by Thomas Kail Featuring Aya Cash, Eisa Davis, Zach Grenier, and Gillian Jacobs
The Public Theater’s Kings. Aya Cash, Gillian Jacobs. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Directed with a lazy eye for movement and advancement by Thomas Kail (Hamilton, Tiny Beautiful Things), Kings doesn’t seem to offer up anything that we don’t sort of know already; that the collusion that we also need to worry about is happening every evening between elected officials and lobbyists, all over small appetizers of smoked salmon (“stop trying to make that a catch phrase“, says Regina, “fetch” is not going to happen – oh wait, wrong Mean Girlit was lobbyist Kate).  Kate, played with a smart dead pan approach by Gillian Jacobs (Pubic’s The Little Flower of East Orange, “Love“) and her fellow lobbyist, Lauren, played with a shiny coat of false smiles by a solid and impenetrable Aya Cash (PH’s The Light Years) know how this is played and do it well.  They can also see from their first encounter with Millsap at a Vail fundraising weekend that she has no idea “how any of this works” and seemingly has no interest in learning to play this wicked little game.  Kate, I guess, is the one we are meant to put our hopes on, as we watch her move hesitantly toward helping the rebellious congresswoman, but the conversations that happen between these two over margaritas at Chili’s (I’d explain why, but it feels too insignificant to bother with) feels as inconsequential as the whole exercise.  She never really jumps forward enough to feel like anything is at risk.
KINGSWritten by Sarah Burgess Directed by Thomas Kail Featuring Aya Cash, Eisa Davis, Zach Grenier, and Gillian Jacobs
The Public Theater’s Kings. Aya Cash, Zach Grenier. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Add in the most disturbingly realistic good guy/bad guy, Sen. John McDowell, played with a firecracker solidness by Zach Grenier (ATC’s Describe the Night), and what we get to watch is all that is wrong in American politics, but very little to hold our hopes up for. The high-minded new congresswoman may get a lot of social media attention for her high minded vote on a specific special interest tax loophole (one of the more interesting pieces of information delivered in this story) but the backlash that we all know will come from those negatively impacted donator, including that good ol’ boy Senator, her own political party, and those financial investors that populated her other better play, is not surprising. The ending of Kings fizzles out as quickly as the moralistic center, leaving us disheartened and hopeless that this sharp little game will never change. It’s check mate for Kings.
RelevanceLucille Lortel Theatre By JC Lee Directed By Lisel Tommy Set Design by Clint Ramos Costume Design by Jacob A. Climer Lighting Design by Jiyoun Chang Sound Design by Broken Chord Projection Design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew Prop Master Joshua Yo
MCC Theater’s Relevance. Molly Camp, Jayne Houdyshell, Pascale Armand. Photo by Joan Marcus.
MCC‘s Relevance, on the other hand, is more of a draw. Playwright JC Lee (LCT’s Luce) has a lot of specifics to say, especially the matters up for discussion at the fictional American Conference for Letters and Culture, where many have gathered to debate, deliver speeches, and bestow awards and grants on two scholars. One is Theresa, the honoree of the Lifetime Achievement Award, played by the formidable Jayne Houdyshell (A Doll’s House, Part 2, The Humans) rising majestically for the part.  Dr. Theresa Hanneck is a well renown and respected writer, academic, and intellectual leader within the liberal movement of feminism and the “people who have been historically left out of the conversation.” Strong minded and well spoken, Theresa has gotten very comfortable being the star attraction at such think tank gatherings, but when a young new writer and scholar by the name of Msemaji Ukeweli, played impressively by Pascale Armand (Broadway’s Eclipsed) finds a way past Theresa’s onslaught of words and ideas and grabs a little bit of the spotlight herself, feathers and egos are ruffled beyond repair.
RelevanceLucille Lortel Theatre By JC Lee Directed By Lisel Tommy Set Design by Clint Ramos Costume Design by Jacob A. Climer Lighting Design by Jiyoun Chang Sound Design by Broken Chord Projection Design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew Prop Master Joshua Yo
MCC Theater’s Relevance. Pascale Armand. Photo by Joan Marcus.
This solid beginning by Lee is very comical and strongly staged and worded in one of the best and most electrifying moments in Relevance. That fight that erupts on stage in front of a wide streaming audience and the host, Dr. Kelly Taylor, the oddly cast Molly Camp (Broadway’s The Heiress), who is obviously out of league, is thrilling and uncomfortable for all.  Taylor is desperate to hold this conference and that interview together, yet we can’t help but sit up tall with tense excitement, ready and willing to watch the old school and the new guard clash in a barrage of words and ideas starting a full on war within their shared movement right before our very eyes. It’s an exhilarating theatrical moment, one to cherish for its high minded ideas and construct.
RelevanceLucille Lortel Theatre By JC Lee Directed By Lisel Tommy Set Design by Clint Ramos Costume Design by Jacob A. Climer Lighting Design by Jiyoun Chang Sound Design by Broken Chord Projection Design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew Prop Master Joshua Yo
MCC Theater’s Relevance. Richard Masur, Jayne Houdyshell. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Back in Theresa’s hotel room, designed with a shiny cold veneer by Clint Ramos (Once on This Island), with lighting by Jiyoun Chang (NYTW’s Sojourners and Her Portmanteau) and costumes by Jacob A. Climer (VT’s Kid Victory), a more intimate and personal insight is given into the working mind of this intelligent and opinionated woman as she unloads her confrontational and self-delusional demeanor onto her agent and former lover, David, played by the warm and man-bun sporting Richard Masur (Broadway’s The Lucky Guy).  Theresa is not going to let this much younger version of her progressive and aggressive past self, who claims and uses a contrived past filled with privation and abuse, to hijack the conference away from her, even if it means inflicting some wounds upon herself and her position. To do so, she must utilize some weapons that sink way down below the high bar most scholarly events profess, latching her dignity to a low brow media outlet that sits uncomfortably under our collective skin (impressive projection design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew).
RelevanceLucille Lortel Theatre By JC Lee Directed By Lisel Tommy Set Design by Clint Ramos Costume Design by Jacob A. Climer Lighting Design by Jiyoun Chang Sound Design by Broken Chord Projection Design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew Prop Master Joshua Yo
MCC Theater’s Relevance. Jayne Houdyshell, Molly Camp. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Director Liesl Tommy (Broadway/Public’s Eclipsed) keeps the energy of the impending war of words and ideas, ratcheting up moment to moment, almost with too much speed and urgency causing this group of pros to stumble over their own lines at certain high stress points, struggling to keep themselves on track. The result, even with the flubs, is impressive, and keeps us leaning in trying to keep track of the slew of ideas being tossed our way. These concepts, revolving around ideas of inclusion, social media’s importance, and the relevance of keeping our past heroes perched up high on their pedestals, a status that we ourselves created, is astonishing at first, but as the play gallops into battle, Lee’s words begin to lose their persuasive exactness, failing in the end to become something of value in the overall discussion that it starts.
RelevanceLucille Lortel Theatre By JC Lee Directed By Lisel Tommy Set Design by Clint Ramos Costume Design by Jacob A. Climer Lighting Design by Jiyoun Chang Sound Design by Broken Chord Projection Design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew Prop Master Joshua Yo
MCC Theater’s Relevance. Jayne Houdyshell, Pascale Armand. Photo by Joan Marcus.
The similarities in the take home ideals set forth in both MCC’s Relevance and the Public’s Kings leave us overwhelmed and uncooked all at the same time. Challenging ideas of old school tactics and ways of getting things done with the new order of thinking and positioning is a compelling and very relevant discussion to be having as we do battle within our own similarly minded groups and organizations. We wonder how best to deal with the situation we find ourselves, and although the moralistic center is not placed in the same exact orbit, the ideas are both somewhere floating near by each other. These two playwrights are tackling big high-minded ideas and problems that exist in our world, but both lack a solid enough structure and framework to bring a great deal of value into the conversation. The answers maybe impossible to find within a 90 or 100 minute play, the new theatrical model of story telling, and even when Ibsen attempted to create discourse around the discomfort created when the new guard attempts to push out the old, with his much longer and similarly themed The Master Builder, the solutions are never all that clear.  Both plays need some refinement to elicit a more exacting conceptual conversation that will enlighten and expand the dialogue.  As they both stand, the depressing reality of both make me sad for our world and the pathway forward.
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

Off Broadway

The Engaging Double Dare of “The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers” Off-Broadway

Published

on

By

By Dennis W.

When you hear the name Marc Summers you probably already know who the man is. He was on your or your children’s must-see television show for over a decade and was the man who brought slime into your home whether you wanted it or not. Marc Summers rose to television fame by hosting one of the mega-hits of the late 80’s and early 90’s, “Double Dare”  on Nickelodeon who then moved on to many other projects including Food Network’s “Unwrapped“. Now that same television host is bringing his life and slimes to Off-Broadway with a one-man show called, quite naturally, The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers at the New World Stages.

Written by Alex Brightman (Actor, Broadway’s Beetlejuice) with music by Drew Gasparini (Broadway-bound The Karate Kid) and directed by Chad Rabinovitz (National Tour Penn and Teller Presents), Marc jumps right in with what he knows best and what made him a household name; audience participation.  He starts with the chance for some unsuspecting lucky audience members to join the fun, some compete in rain gear holding the promise of getting messy like they used to watch on Nickelodeon. The night I was there the theater was filled with people totally familiar with the show and ready to jump into the middle of flying slime or whipped cream. I’m not sure if you would place me in that group of groupies.

Company of The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers.

Summers is very comfortable as he backtracks his life to young Marc and his hopes and dreams of becoming a TV personality. He very thoughtfully feels that, like one of his idols, he’ll become a magician. Marc the Magician seemed like an appropriate title. Summers breezes along through the first half of the performance as he explains how one job leads to another with some bumps along that road. But Summers always seemed to bounce back and forward landing, in 1995, a hosting gig on Lifetime that changed his life forever.

This is where his tone changes and becomes more serious. He starts talking about when he was diagnosed, live on television, with what was then a mysterious disorder. That moment put the breaks on his career. That was until he was hired to host “Unwrappedon Food Network, which fortunately changed the course of his life and his career.

Summers seems very at home sharing the intimate details of his life even as he tosses in some slime moments with the audience. He also has the help of a sidekick to help with laughs as he plays all kinds of characters from Summers’ mom to his bosses.

Whether you were part of the “Double Daretelevision audience as a child or an “Unwrappedfan, The Life & Slimes of Marc Summers will hold your attention as the story of a man who never gave up when faced with some pretty powerful difficulties. And to top it all off, he really seems as nice in person as he is on television.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Continue Reading

Off Broadway

Friedlich’s Downtown “JOB” Standoff Soars Sharply with Great Aim

Published

on

By

On a very sharply defined theatrical space, downtown at the Connelly Theater on E4th St., a psychological standoff is what immediately snaps us deep into the emotionally volatile and fascinating world of JOB, the thrilling, critically acclaimed play by Max Wolf Friedlich (SleepOver) that is getting an encore engagement after playing a sold-out, twice extended off-Broadway run last fall at the Soho Playhouse. Working this through in real-time, the play is a tense, tight, and tumultuous zooming in on mental health and the workplace, when one young tech worker, played to frayed perfection by Sydney Lemmon (“TÁR“, “Succession”) is mandated to seek the services of a crisis therapist, fascinatingly well-played by Peter Friedman (PH’s The Treasurer; “Succession”).

Peter Friedman and Sydney Lemmon in JOB at SoHo Playhouse. Photo by Emilio Madrid.

Directed with clarity and cleverness by Michael Herwitz (MV Playhouse’s The Campaign That Failed), the setup and startup of this armed and well-aimed play grab hold quickly and miraculously, digging us sharply into the space, designed to claustrophobic perfection by Scott Penner (Coal Mine’s Dion: A Rock Opera), with exacting costuming by Michelle Li (Comedy Central’s “Awkwafina is Nora from Queens”). The play puts us off balance, making us lean in to try to understand what is bringing these two together; Lemmon’s Jane and Friedman’s Loyd, in this room with such overwhelming anxiety. It’s wisdom and shame connecting and colliding, setting up a chaotic and life-threatening game of chess, using paradigms and conflictual standings between generations, genders, and political viewpoints.

Peter Friedman and Sydney Lemmon in JOB at SoHo Playhouse. Photo by Emilio Madrid.

Something has sent this young female big tech employee over the edge, causing a viral unhinged meltdown that we only secondhand hear about, but it is clearly a scream into the internal void about something overwhelming and disturbing. We assume, like the therapist, that Jane’s job, the one she has been put on leave from and the one she is desperate to get back to, is the cause, and the more we hear and learn, the more we understand, or at least, we think we do.

It’s a sizzlingly tight psychological dive into trauma and destruction, beautifully enhanced by the strong and jarring lighting design by Mextly Couzin (MCC’s Which Way to the Stage) and the clever intrusive sound design created miraculously by Jessie Char and Maxwell Neely-Cohen (Fake Friends’ Invasive Species). The sharpness to examine our vantage points is alarmingly pulling, forcing us to try to make sense of all the voices and sounds rattling around in the red light pulsations that become red siren flags and weapons used against our senses, aiding our discomfort but forcing us to lean in more to the frantic essence of a person overwhelmed.

Sydney Lemmon and Peter Friedman in JOB at SoHo Playhouse. Photo by Emilio Madrid.

As a psychotherapist myself (in my real world), the play connected deeply to so many difficult dilemmas and challenges that step into the shared space of the therapy room. The passionate counterarguments and denials of need are well-known engagements, and I couldn’t help but find fascination and connectivity to their standoff, even as they both lean in and away from one another from one minute to the next. The two actors are spectacularly detailed in their stance, both physically and mentally, moving around the “all-time therapy classic” square with precision and expertise.

Returning and wrapping themselves around one another to points made, the twist and dig into the darkness of the web and the idea around an obligation to help, on both sides, become increasingly life-or-death, as the armed walls of JOB keep crumbling and rising with a vengeance. The doctor/patient paradigm is a forever shifting perspective in this captivatingly killer of a play, registering completely under the climax, which doesn’t feel fully formed in its finale. With screams into the dark making more sense with each reveal and wrap-around, Max Wolf Friedlich’s JOB leaves us electrically off balance, wondering and wanting maybe a bit more reversal of fortune in those last few moments, but most assuredly satisfied in the leaving of that room at the end of this complex and captivating ‘session’.

The provocative dark comedy, JOB will play from January 19 through March 23, 2024, at the Connelly Theater (220 East 4th Street). https://jobtheplay.com/

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Continue Reading

Off Broadway

Brooklyn Laundry a Touching and Comedic New York Love Story

Published

on

John Patrick Shanley’s Brooklyn Laundry is heartbreaking, soul searching and will hit home, especially if your life has not always been a bed of roses. This imperfect love story, is touching as we meet a hardened disillusioned Fran (Cecily Strong), as she enters her local laundromat and meets upbeat owner Owen (David Zayas). The two seem an unlikely match, but opposites attract and these two both desperately need and want love. Owen asks Fran out and she says yes, but first she has to deal with some horrifying problems that are weighing her down.

David Zaya, Cecily Strong photo by Jeremy Daniel

First up her older sister Trish (Florencia Lozano) is dying. The father of her two children is a dead beat dad, so Fran gives of her own life to routinely goes upstate to help out.

When Fran and Owen do go on their date, it takes chocolate magic mushrooms to break the ice. They both have unrealistic versions of their wants and expectations. Fear over sexual performance, commitment and finances in raising children plague Owen. The two hit it off and are looking forward to their next encounter, except Fran’s other sister, Susie (Andrea Syglowski), whose loveless marriage and disable child, are about to make Fran’s burden even heavier. Fran can not catch a break. Even when she stands up for herself she is saddled with responsibility and familial tasks.

Can this connection win over insurmountable odds?

Shanley, also directs. I found this play so real, where you laugh, because if not, tears will come streaming down your face. Right now it seems as if most of our lives are out of control and how you cope, becomes the question of the day.

Each of these actors infuses warmth, humanity and longing for what should, could or will be, that we are right there with them. Zayas and Strong’ have such a palatable chemistry, that you root for the happy ending that may seem more of a miracle.

Santo Loquasto’s revolving set is rather spectacular involving a realistic laundromat, two homes and a beautifully lit  restaurant by Brian MacDevitt.

It seems this is the year of Shanley, with the Off-Broadway revival of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea and the Broadway revival of Doubt, but if they are all like this, count me in for this absorbing 80 minutes fable of love.

Brooklyn Laundry: Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center, 131 West 55th Street through April 14.

Continue Reading

Dance

A Sign of the Times Off-Broadway Dreams of the Dawn of a New Day

Published

on

By

It’s the dawn of a new day, says A Sign of the Times, the latest jukebox musical that opens itself up to a sweet nostalgia of American postwar at the New World Stages off-Broadway. It’s overflowing with well-known songs from the 1960s, beautifully performed and glowing, with melodies made popular and iconic by Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, and Lesley Gore. With such a strong playlist at its core, the new musical, created by producer Richard J. Robin (Memphis) with a somewhat contrived book by Lindsey Hope Pearlman (MacGyver the Musical), tries valiantly to stitch together the tale of a young woman, Cindy, played with wide-eyed determination by Chilina Kennedy (Broadway’s Paradise Square) who is trying with all her might to find a different way of living outside the heteronormative Ohio small town community she rings in the new year with. It’s a well-formulated beginning, possibly because of the fine crew surrounding her, especially her two gal pals, portrayed wonderfully by the very talented and funny Alyssa Carol (Broadway’s Bad Cinderella) and Maggie McDowell (Broadway’s Kinky Boots) giving it their all. The two are conflicted, wanting her both to stay and marry her handsome, epic raspy-voiced boyfriend, Matt, played deliciously croon-worthy by Justin Matthew Sargent (Broadway’s Spider-Man…) giving off a dreamy Luke Perry/Dylan vibe in abundance, but they also would love for her to get out of Ohio and follow her photographic dreams in the big city of New York. Like any good friend would.

J Savage, Alyssa Carol, Justin Matthew Sargent, Chilina Kennedy, and Cassie Austin in A Sign of the Times. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

But the well-strummed “I Only Want to Be with You” proposal, delivered smoothly by Sargent’s Matt, is not enough to hold down the “Who Am I?” questioning for Cindy, and off she goes on an awkwardly tight bus ride to the Big Apple in hope that “Round Every Corner” there might be some morsel of career success. It’s an empowering first chapter to Cindy’s adventure, even with the all too true and too funny apartment hunting shenanigans. Packed in with it all also comes about every culturally significant political movement that existed in those formative years, passively aggressively shoved into this tale of a time and a place in our cultural history. None of which have gone away. It’s a grand attempt, overflowing with issues and meaning, as this musical tries its best to give us another shiny and splashy Hairspray. That comparison, I know is an ‘apples to oranges jukebox’ one, but that show, back in its day, magically and deftly found its way to encapsulate segregation and racism in 1962 Baltimore with originality and musical gold, but unfortunately, with this show’s heavy-handed book, A Sign of the Times doesn’t hold its shape as strongly as that aerosol can of Ultra Clutch was made to do for those dos. Even with all of these stellar songs and performances brought to life at New World Stages.

But the cast of pros can not be held back by this book, as each and everyone delivers those iconic songs with charm, vitality, and style on a slick stage design by Evan Adamson (Le Petit Theatre’s A Christmas Carol) with expert lighting design by Ken Billington (Broadway’s New York, New York), determined and fun costuming by Johanna Pan (Barrington’s James and the Giant Peach), and a solid sound design by Shannon Slaton (Broadway’s Melissa Etheridge: My Window). Their voices ring out infectiously strong, leading us through the chance encounters and “Count Me In” moments that basically “Rescue Me” and everyone around them, particularly Crystal Lucas-Perry (Broadway’s Ain’t No Mo’) as the aspiring singer/quick-change artist Tanya, who even though she was under-mic’d in the first act, still managed to captivate, even when given dialogue that was as corny as Corny Collins. “Something [does] Got a Hold on Me” when she starts to sing, so “why am I dreaming about something else?“.


Crystal Lucas-Perry and Chilina Kennedy in Off-Broadway’s A Sign of the Times. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

There is also the political activist/protestor and Tanya’s handsome man, Cody, played solidly by the well-voiced Akron Lanier Watson (Broadway’s The Color Purple revival) who tries to engage us and her with the cause. On the other end of that police baton, there is a slimy advertising executive Brian, played true to form by Ryan Silverman (Broadway’s Side Show), who uses his power and privilege to woo the determined Cindy. Yet, even with all those red flags flying, she continues to hold on to her dream of being a photographer, even as we watch her fall for this creepy businessman who charms her into not seeing the ugly blending of professional and personal that is rampant in their workplace and in his demeanor. It’s a stretch of the “Gimme Some Lovin’” imagination to believe Cindy, let alone the more worldly Tanya, can not see clearly through his harassment schtick from that first walk home, but I guess we can relax through this two-and-a-half-hour show knowing that it has to come eventually in this “Five O’clock World” gone wild.

Not even when the old Ohio boyfriend, Matt, whom we are all starting to warm up to a bit more with each Brian/Cindy “Call Me” moment, calls himself asking her to take the “Last Train to Clarksville” before he heads off to Vietnam after getting drafted, does Cindy falter in her dream of photography career success. But it’s hard to quibble about too many hot topics for one show when the cast is having so much fun kicking up their heels to the strong choreography of JoAnn M. Hunter (Mirvish’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) and her “The Shoop Shoop Song” energy. The playfulness shines when used in the right moments, exemplified in the “The ‘In’ Crowd” party, hosted by the wildly fun, pop artist, cheekily named Randy Forthwall, played joyfully by Edward Staudenmayer (Broadway’s Girl from the North Country) who also adds that same flair to a dozen other minor roles. It is exactly the formula this show needs a whole lot more of and is the bus ride that could bring it success.

Edward Staudenmayer, Melessie Clark, Lena Teresa Matthews, Alyssa Carol, Erica Simone Barnett, Kuppi Alec Jessop, and Crystal Lucas-Perry in Off-Broadway’s A Sign of the Times. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Director Gabriel Barre (Broadway’s Amazing Grace) does his best to keep the engine running, but sometimes he stalls it with a few heavy-handed approaches to some bigger issue moments, like Tanya’s “Society’s Child“. It’s touching but somehow too light and in need of a stronger punch, but I also have a feeling that Lucas-Perry could have handled that one all on her own without the dramatization playing out awkwardly over to the side. Yet, once again, the music is what delivers the energy and charm of this piece “Downtown” for our pleasure under the direction of music director Britt Bonney (Broadway’s Camelot) with music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Joseph Church (Broadway’s The Lion King). But as with many jukebox musicals, the songs are the gold here, even when the lyrics only fit marginally into the storyline. The belting and the wildly colorful embodiment of the period are exactly what the piece needs to take it to the finishing line. Not the clumsy overwrought storyline and dialogue, checking as many boxes as one could hope for, that stops it in its soundtracks.

Trying hard to be a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people, Off-Broadway’s A Sign of the Times does find its way to be filled up with a ton of 1960s musical delights, performed wonderfully, all lined up in a row. Unfortunately, it is also a show with a storyline spit out by a computer program to cover all the issues of the time and place (and beyond, maybe “ten years ahead of wherever“) shoved in between and inside the cracks awkwardly. It never really finds its way into the well-balanced heights of its counterpart Hairspray, but it does entertain you well when it embraces the music it wants to share with us. Brad Peterson’s projection design (Off-Broadway’s Broadway Bounty Hunter) tries his best to add dimension and the weight of the decade with his projected photographs of activists and social movement moments, but the energy of the music presented here is really what drives this musical to its destination.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Continue Reading

Off Broadway

A Sign Of The Times Revists The Sounds of The 60’s

Published

on

I grew up with the songs of Petula Clark, The Monkeys, Nancy Sinatra, Dusty Springfield and Lesley Gore, so I could not wait to see this production. These songs from my childhood are all featured in the new off-Broadway show A Sign of the Times, playing at New World Stages. The problem here is Joseph Church’s orchestration, musical direction by Britt Bonney and dance arrangements by David Dabbon don’t do justice to “I Know a Place,”“The Boy From New York City,” “It’s A Sign of The Times,” “Call Me,”“Downtown,” “The Shoop Shoop Song,” “Rescue Me” and more. They also for the most part, do not have singers who understand the genre, which has a pop sound not a musical theatre cadence.

The book by Lindsey Hope Pearlman (based on a story by Richard J. Robin), is over the top camp in the first act, but settles down in the second. Gabriel Barre’s direction is also inconsistent, which you wish for both of these element to be better as they take on issues such as sexism, racism, women’s rights and the Vietnam War.

Chilina Kennedy (center) stars in the off-Broadway premiere of A Sign of the Times, directed by Gabriel Barre, for the York Theatre Company at New World Stages. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

We begin in Centerville, Ohio New Year’s Eve 1965 as Cindy (Chilina Kennedy) decides she wants a career and not marriage to her boyfriend Matt (Justin Matthew Sargent). Cindy longs to go New York City, and make it in the world as a photographer.

Akron Lanier Watson (center) plays Cody in A Sign of the Times, directed by Gabriel Barre, for the York Theatre Company at New World Stages. Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

On the bus to NYC Cindy meets Cody (Akron Lanier Watson) “President Emeritus of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, University of Buffalo Chapter.” He is on a mission to improve race relations.

Cindy finds an apartment with Tanya (Crystal Lucas-Perry) who wants to make it in the music business.

Cindy gets a job and a romance with sexist Brian (Ryan Silverman), as Tanya hooks up with Cody, as Matt is sent to Vietnam.

In the end a happy ending transpires and you are left with some moments that leave you singing the soundtrack that is oh so singable.

As the lead Ms. Kennedy does not have a powerful singing voice until Act 2, where she excels in “You Don’t Own Me”. She also makes you understand Cindy’s dreams and longing for independence.

Who steals the show is Lucas-Perry singing “Rescue Me” and “Somethings Got A Hold On Me”.

Matthew Sargent in the beginning vocally lapses into the musical theatre genre, but when he allows his voice to get gravelly “Last Train to Clarksville” and “Eve of Destruction,” he excels.

Lanier Watson also has moments, but isn’t as strong as he should be vocally.

Silverman is strong vocally and makes chauvinism as creepy as a snake shedding it’s skin.

The choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter, is a hit and miss with some of the ensemble making it look effortless and the other half making it look like they are trying too much.

Johanna Pan’s costumes are also hit and miss.

In the second act  “Gimme Some Lovin” “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)””Don’t Sleep In the Subway” and others really make you miss this infectious music that guided our lives.

What does shine is Evan Adamson’s scenic design; Ken Billington’s lighting; Shannon Slaton’s sound design; Brad Peterson’s projection design; and J. Jared Janas’ hair, wig and makeup. Also before the show old TV commercials put you in the mood.

What does make A Sign of the Times shine is that you really get to hear the lyrics of these songs and really see how songwriting was done. Ahh to have the music and innocents back again.

A Sign of the Times: New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street.

Continue Reading

Trending

Copyright © 2023 Times Square Chronicles

Times Square Chronicles