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Off-Broadway Openings Until The End Of 2023

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Recently Opened:

At the Vineyard Theatre John J. Caswell, Jr.’s Scene Partners directed by Rachel Chavkin. The show stars Dianne Wiest, Eric Berryman, Johanna Day, Josh Hamilton, Carmen M. Herlihy and Kristen Sieh. Taking place in the winter, 1985. 75-year-old Meryl ditches ice-cold Milwaukee for sunny Los Angeles, hell-bent on becoming a movie star. She’s got big dreams, a little money, and a whole lot of nerve. But will the world ever know her for who she really is?

Also recently opened is Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia at the West End Theatre. Directed by Eric Tucker, starring Alan Altschuler, Lisa Birnbaum, Shaun Taylor Corbett, Caroline Grogan, Deychen Volino-Gyetsa, Mike Labbadia, Arash Mokhtar, Randolph Curtis Rand, Jamie “Smitty” Smithson, Zuzanna Szadkowski, Devin Vega and Elan Zafir.Tom Stoppard examines events at an English country home in 1809 and in the present day. Mathematics, romance, Lord Byron and other ideas and feelings contribute to the goings-on in the past, as two academics attempt to unravel them in the present.

Opening tonight at the Lucille Lortel Theatre John Patrick Shanley’s Danny And The Deep Blue Sea. Directed by Jeff Ward staring Aubrey Plaza and Christopher Abbott. Follow two desperate people in the Bronx, Danny and Roberta, as they walk the line between destruction and transcendence.

Opening last night at MCC Theater Space / Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater Walk On Through: Confessions Of A Museum Novice. Book, music, and lyrics are by Gavin Creel and the show stars Creel, Sasha Allen, Madeline Benson, Chris Peters, Ryan Vasquez and Scott Wasserman. Directed by Linda Goodrich.

On November 15th at the Connelly Theatre A Good Day T Me Not To You, directed by Lee Sunday Evans and starring playwright Lameece Issaq. A dental lab tech in her 40’s who has been fired and lost her apartment moves into St. Agnes Residence, a woman’s house run by nuns. While there, she grapples with her unreached goal of motherhood and her struggles with fertility, as well as the death of her sister.

On November 19th Alicia Keys musical Hell’s Kitchen opens at the Public Theater/Newman Theater. Book by Kristoffer Diaz, directed by Michael Greif this show stars Shoshana Bean, Chad Carstarphen, Rein Clarke, Chloe Davis, Nico DeJesus, Brandon Victor Dixon, Timothy L. Edwards, Badia Farha, Vanessa Ferguson, Crystal Monee Hall, Gianna Harris, Chris Lee, Jackie Leon, Kecia Lewis, Raechelle Manalo, Maleah Joi Moon, Onyxx Noel, Sarah Parker, William Roberson, Niki Saludez, Mariand Torres, Donna Vivino and Lamont Walker II. In a cramped apartment hanging off the side of Times Square, 17-year-old Ali is desperate to get her piece of the New York dream. Ali’s mother is just as determined to protect her daughter from the same mistakes she made. When Ali falls for a talented young drummer, both mother and daughter must face hard truths about race, defiance, and growing up. Ali feels trapped, until the sound of a neighbor playing piano opens the door to an unexpected friendship and a radically different future.

Also November 19th, at New World Stages – Stage III Mind Mangler created by Mischiief Theatre. Directed by Hannah Sharkey starring Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer. The Mind Mangler returns to the stage following a disappointing two-night run at the Luton Holiday Inn Conference Centre. His new solo spectacular is predicted to spiral into chaos as he attempts to read your mind.

I am so looking forward to November 20th and Michael John LaChiusa’s The Garden of Anuncia at Lincoln Center Theater @ Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. Directed by Graciela Daniele, starring Enrique Acevedo, Andréa Burns, Eden Espinosa, Priscilla Lopez, Tally Sessions, Mary Testa and Kalyn West. Anuncia tends the garden of her country house as she reflects on her life, looking back on her girlhood in Juan Perón’s Argentina and paying homage to the family of women whose love and sacrifices allowed her to become an artist.

At the  National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene on November 20th Avram Mlotek and Zalmen Mlotek Amid Falling Walls. Directed by Motl Didner and starring Steven Skybell, Abby Goldfarb, Avram Mlotek and Daniella Rabbani. A new musical that tells the story of the perseverance of the Jewish spirit during the Holocaust as expressed through Yiddish song. Amid Falling Walls (Tsvishn Falndike Vent) features material written and performed in ghettos, cabarets, partisan encampments in the forests, concentration camps and clandestine theaters. Amid Falling Walls includes first hand testimony of Holocaust survivors through their own poetry and music. Although many of the young men and women in their 20s and 30s who created this remarkable work were murdered during World War II, their songs are brought to life in this theatrical production, the first of its kind: telling the authentic story of resistance and hope through the words and music of those who were there.

On November 24,  at the Ruth Stage / Theatre One @ Theatre Row James McLure’s Lone Star. Directed by Joe Rosario. Starring Ana Isabelle, Matt de Rogatis, Ryan McCartan and Barton Cowperthwaite. A dark comedy, Lone Star, takes place in the cluttered back yard of a small town Texas bar. Roy, a brawny macho type, is back in town, battling symptoms of PTSD, after a hitch in Vietnam. Joined by his younger brother Ray, this hilarious and poignant study of a pair of Texas “good ole boys” explores the depths of brotherhood and the scars to be dealt with from battles fought at home and abroad.

On November 28 at the Merchant’s House Museum A Christmas Carol. Playwrights are Rhonda Dodd, John Kevin Jones. Dodd directs, Jones stars.

Finishing off the month Jen Silverman’s Spain at Second Stage Theatre/Tony Kiser Theatre. Directed by Tyne Rafaeli, starring Andrew Burnap, Marin Ireland, Zachary James, Erik Lochtefeld and Danny Wolohan. Step into a sophisticated, slippery world where the line between truth and fiction is all in the packaging. It’s 1936, and a pair of passionate filmmakers have landed their next big project: a sweeping Spanish Civil War film with the potential to change American hearts and minds. It just happens to be bankrolled by the KGB.

Also on the 30th Elizabeth Coplan’s Til Death at Theatre 5 @ Theatre Row. Directed by Chad Austin, starring
Judy Kaye, Robert Cuccioli, Michael Lee Brown, Whitney Morse, Dominick LaRuffa Jr. and Amy Hargreaves. One mother’s choice unveils a family’s long-buried secrets. As Mary’s life-altering decision sends shockwaves through her loving-but-turbulent family, they all must confront their past, reconcile the present, and pick up the missing pieces in the process.

Another 30th entree is The Jerusalem Syndrome at the York Theatre Company @ The Theater At St. Jean’s. Book and Lyrics by Laurence Holzman and Felicia Needleman, music by Kyle Rosen, directed by Don Stephenson. The show stars Farah Alvin, Dana Costello , Scott Cote, Andrea Fleming, James D. Gish, Alan H. Green, Danielle Lee James, John Jellison, Josh Lamon, Garrett Long, Karen Murphy, Jeffrey Schechter, Jennifer Smith, Chandler Sinks, Pablo Torres, Curtis Wiley, Lenny Wolpe and Laura Woyasz. The Jerusalem Syndrome explores a real-life psychological malady that causes tourists in Israel—over 200 every year!—to suffer mental breakdowns and suddenly come to believe that they are characters from the Bible. Meet an inept tour guide who turns into Moses, a professor in a troubled marriage who thinks she’s Abraham’s wife Sarah, and a resort tycoon with daddy issues who might be Jesus…not to mention multiple Virgin Marys and the Lord Herself.

On December 5th at the Public Theater/Anspacher Theater Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Manhattan. Directed by Laurie Woolery, starring Rainbow Dickerson, Elizabeth Frances, David Kelly, Jeffrey King, Enrico Nassi, Jessica Ranville, Joe Tapper, Sheila Tousey and Rex Young. A gripping journey from the fur trade of the 1600s to the stock trade of today, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Manahatta tells the story of Jane Snake, a brilliant young Native American woman with a Stanford MBA. Jane reconnects with her ancestral Lenape homeland, known as Manahatta, when she moves from Oklahoma to New York for a banking job just before the 2008 financial meltdown. Jane’s struggle to reconcile her new life with the expectations and traditions of her family and Nation are powerfully interwoven with the heartbreaking history of the Delaware Nation’s expulsion from their land. Both old and new Manahatta converge in a lesson about the dangers of living in a society where there’s no such thing as enough.

In her own one women show Rachel Bloom Opens in Death, Let Me Do My Show at the Orpheum Theatre. From the co-creator and star of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” comes a one woman musical comedy that is definitely NOT about the ever-present spectre of death. Rachel Bloom’s new show is filled with raunchy and escapist material that will in NO way explore the pandemic and all the tumultuous events that ensued in her personal life. NOTHING will stop Rachel from partying like it’s 2019!

On December 11th Sandra Tsing Loh’s Madwomen Of The West at the Actors Temple Theatre Directed by Thomas Caruso and starring Caroline Aaron, Brooke Adams, Marilu Henner, and Melanie Mayron. Welcome to Jules’ stunning Brentwood mansion, where hangry (she’s on a sugar cleanse) Marilyn is throwing a surprise birthday brunch for Claudia, who hates birthdays. Champagne corks pop—and tempers flare—when their long-estranged celebrity friend Zoey crashes the party, fresh from her TED Talks.

On December 13th at the Atlantic Theater Company / Linda Gross Theater Buena Vista Social Club. This new musical has a book by Marco Ramirez, music and lyrics by Buena Vista Social Club and is directed by  Saheem Ali.
The show stars Skizzo Arnedilla, Renesito Avich, Natalie Belcon, Angélica Beliard, Kenya Browne, Danaya Esperanza, Carlos Sanchez Falú, Jared Machado, Hector Juan Maisonet, Ilda Mason, Marielys Molina, Julio Monge, Leonardo Reyna, Mel Semé, Olly Sholotan, Jainardo Batista Sterling, Nancy Ticotin and Luis Vega.

Finishing off the year Tennessee Williams’s The Night Of The Iguana at Irene Diamond Stage @ The Pershing Square Signature Center. Directed by Emily Mann starring Tim Daly, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Lea DeLaria, Austin Pendleton, Jean Lichty, Carmen Berkeley, Eliud Kauffman, Keith Randolph Smith, Bradley James Tejeda and Dan Teixeira. A defrocked clergyman encounters inside disturbances amid outside disturbances at the Costa Verde Hotel in Acapulco as the world prepares for World War II. After four women of different ages and backgrounds, along with a 97-year-old poet, engage in the clergyman’s spiritual struggles, their lives leap dramatically forward.

 

 

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

Ken Fallin's Broadway

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

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

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

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

Michael Herwitz 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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